A new academic year-pass on the research bug!

Over the next 2-3 weeks on the UK we will see the start of a new academic year. For our new students, the freshers, this will be a magical time of overcoming those initial nerves at leaving home and having a very good time. Mature students will join us with trepidation, wondering how they will stand out against the bright young things, and our established cohorts in years 2, 3 and 4 will return with a clear idea of what is expected of them and, hopefully, a hunger to progress.

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For all of these students there is often a significant hurdle to overcome. Generally they have been conditioned to work to achieve a good grade (naturally enough- so much depends on success) and so learning can often be in modular boxes with limited awareness of how the boxes join together. I find that students are very happy with the idea that good practice should be evidence-based and that they will willingly learn the evidence base. The big hurdle is understanding how the evidence base is generated and the reasons why it so often seems to shift. The transient nature of understanding in the field of nutrition and dietetics can be frustrating and unsettling and classes that seek to explain why it happens are so much less interesting than being told what is “proven”. I am yet to find a student that enjoys classes in Research Methods, and it is probably just as challenging to find a colleague who enjoys teaching it.

I think that we are perhaps going about it the wrong way. Everyone learns best from the people who inspire them, the people who show love and passion for what they are teaching. As an old crumbly now, I still have clear memories of the good teachers at school and the excellent tutors at university. They aren’t the ones who made it easy (no Dr Dixon, you baffled me sometimes), they are the ones who challenged and stretched, but made it fun and spoke from their own experience. Reflective practitioners the best at nurturing and developing reflective and critical skills in others.

So for those of you in the business of educating undergraduates, especially undergraduate dietitians, make it your aim to enthuse about research this year. Take every opportunity to communicate the value of new discovery as a basis for our discipline. If you have experienced it try and share the excitement of how it feels to be the first to find something, that liberating feeling of knowing that you are at the forefront of human knowledge and understanding. Don’t spoon-feed them- get them reading, get them thinking and harness their critical muscle by giving them papers to read.  And perhaps, just perhaps, point your students in the direction of some papers in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 😉 .  

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