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Experiences of Undergraduates Publishing Biomechanics Research

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The aim of this study was to investigate student experiences of publishing undergraduate research in biomechanics. A total of 29 former students with experience of publishing peer-reviewed undergraduate biomechanics research completed an online survey regarding their perceived benefits, level of involvement, and experiences in aspects of the research process. On average, students perceived their experiences to be "largely helpful" or greater in all aspects. Areas were identified corresponding to: the greatest perceived benefits (eg, understanding of the research process); the least perceived benefits (eg, statistical analysis skills); the greatest student involvement (eg, reading relevant literature); and the least student involvement (eg, developing hypotheses and/ or methods). A thematic analysis of open question responses identified themes relating to: future career, skills, scientific process, intra-and interpersonal factors, and pedagogy. Common intended learning outcomes may be achieved through involvement in the research process independently of the level of staff involvement. Staff should be encouraged to involve students in publishable biomechanics research projects where this is possible without compromising research standards and should explore ways of recreating the publishing process internally for all students.
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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Journal of Applied Biomechanics,
2020, available online:
https://doi.org/10.1123/jab.2020-0069
Version: Accepted for publication
Publisher: © Human Kinetics, Inc.
Please cite the published version.
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Journal of Applied Biomechanics
Experiences of undergraduates publishing biomechanics research
Stuart A. McErlain-Naylor
School of Health and Sports Sciences, University of Suffolk, Ipswich, IP4 1QJ, UK
ABSTRACT
The aim of this study was to investigate student experiences of publishing undergraduate
research in biomechanics. A total of twenty-nine former students with experience of
publishing peer-reviewed undergraduate biomechanics research completed an online
survey regarding their perceived benefits, level of involvement, and experiences in aspects
of the research process. On average, students perceived their experiences to be ‘largely
helpful’ or greater in all aspects. Areas were identified corresponding to: the greatest
perceived benefits (e.g. understanding of the research process); the least perceived
benefits (e.g. statistical analysis skills); the greatest student involvement (e.g. reading
relevant literature); and the least student involvement (e.g. developing hypotheses and/or
methods). A thematic analysis of open question responses identified themes relating to:
future career; skills; scientific process; intra / interpersonal factors; and pedagogy.
Common intended learning outcomes may be achieved through involvement in the
research process independently of the level of staff involvement. Staff should be
encouraged to involve students in publishable biomechanics research projects where this
is possible without compromising research standards and should explore ways of
recreating the publishing process internally for all students.
Keywords: dissertation, student, sports, teaching, Higher Education
INTRODUCTION
Staff-student partnership has beneficial effects on many factors related to
teaching and learning. These include employability skills and attributes, a deepened
understanding of and contribution to the academic community, and raising the profile
of research in teaching and learning1,2. According to the National Union of Students,
“partnership is about investing students with the power to co-create”3. One common
way of facilitating staff-student partnerships is through undergraduate involvement in
research projects, which has been called the pedagogy for the 21st century4. Whilst
staff-student research partnerships have potential extrinsic (e.g., acceleration in
research productivity57) and intrinsic (e.g., motivation and enjoyment6,8) benefits for
staff and institutions, this study will focus on the experiences of students in such
partnerships.
Several frameworks have presented the ways in which students may be engaged
in research. The most widely applied is that developed by Healey9, expanding upon
Griffiths’ research–teaching nexus10. The model has two axes (Figure 1): one
distinguishes between students as audience or participants; while the second
distinguishes between emphasis on research content or research processes and
problems. This categorises the four main ways in which undergraduates can be
engaged with research and inquiry as research-led (e.g., learning about current
biomechanics research), research-oriented (e.g., developing biomechanics research
skills), research-based (e.g., undertaking biomechanics research), or research-tutored
(e.g., discussing biomechanics research). A vast body of research supports effective
outcomes when students produce their own knowledge through inquiry-based activities
(the research-based quadrant; Figure 1)11,12. One associated strategy for linking
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research and teaching is ‘giving students the opportunity to work on research projects
alongside staff’9. Publication with undergraduates can be facilitated through multiple
opportunities for staff-student collaboration and by incorporating high-quality research
projects with publication potential into specific courses1315. Student effort in research
projects has been linked positively to both intent to publish and the time spent on the
project by staff16.
Figure 1 - Research-teaching nexus. Adapted from Healey9.
Literature considering student experiences of working on published research is
largely anecdotal (e.g. the research topic ‘Engaging Undergraduates in Publishable
Research: Best Practices’ in frontiers in Psychology15). Matthews and Rosa reflected
on their own experiences, discussing the perceived benefits (e.g. confidence, work
ethic, critical thinking, career preparation, and publication) and challenges (e.g.
interpersonal dynamics, procrastination, and project work continuing after
graduation)17. Golding et al. interviewed staff and students to investigate summer
undergraduate research as a potential pathway to publication in psychology18. Their
constructed themes were similar to the experiences of Matthews and Rosa17, reflecting
numerous benefits (e.g. work readiness and additional research experience,
networking and teamwork, publication) and challenges (e.g. equity of opportunities) of
the program.
These experiences are specific to psychology, whereas the discipline is an
important mediator in constructing links between research and teaching19,20. Multi-
disciplinary but single institution survey results from Weiner and Watkinson support
these benefits21. Students publishing in an undergraduate-only journal gained
information literacy knowledge and intended to publish articles in the future. To date,
no research has focused on similar experiences within biomechanics. This remains
necessary, especially given the unique nature of data collection and analysis
techniques taught in undergraduate biomechanics courses22. The majority of
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pedagogical biomechanics research has focused on course concepts and technology,
rather than student learning experiences2326.
The purpose of this study was therefore to investigate student experiences of
publishing undergraduate research in biomechanics. Although the study was largely
exploratory in nature, it was primarily hypothesised that students would perceive their
involvement in published undergraduate research as beneficial across all aspects of
the research process. It was further hypothesised that the greatest benefits would be
perceived when staff and students worked collaboratively, and would include self-
confidence, academic / research skills, career preparation, and a sense of
accomplishment.
METHODS
Participants
Twenty-nine former students with experience of publishing peer-reviewed
undergraduate biomechanics research were recruited via the author’s professional and
social media networks. Fugard and Potts claimed that a sample size of twenty-six is
required for 80% chance of observing at least five instances of a theme that has 25%
prevalence in the population27. However, the frequency of observations are of lesser
importance in comparison to fruitful experiences of shared meaning28,29, and as few as
ten participants may be sufficient for this purpose30. Each participant’s authorship of
published research undertaken as an undergraduate student (including peer-reviewed
international conference proceedings) was independently verified. Study details were
explained to each participant and informed consent obtained in accordance with the
ethics committee of the School of Health and Sports Sciences, University of Suffolk,
UK. All procedures were conducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki for studies
involving human participants. No incentives were offered for participation, nor were
there any penalties for not participating.
Data Collection
Each participant completed an online survey hosted by www.surveymonkey.com
(SurveyMonkey Inc., San Mateo, California, USA). The survey was adapted from two
previous investigations, including the three section (multiple choice; Likert scale
opinion assessment; narrative exploration) survey by Mabrouk and Peters31 and the
Likert scale questions of Salsman et al.16. These surveys have successfully elicited
rich qualitative and quantitative data regarding students’ experiences of staff-student
research partnerships.
The present study’s survey was composed of three sections. In Section 1
(perceived benefits; 16 questions) participants rated the perceived benefits from their
direct involvement in the published project on a Likert scale from ‘not at all helpful’ to
‘extremely helpful’. In Section 2 (level of involvement; 8 questions) participants rated
their level of involvement in aspects of the research progress on a Likert scale from
‘My supervisor/others did all of the work’ to ‘I did all of the work’. In Section 3 (narrative
exploration; 5 questions) participants responded to open questions about their
experiences during the project. All questions and answer options are listed in Table 1.
Data Analysis
Responses in Section 1 (perceived benefits) were scored from 1 for not at all
helpful’ to 5 for ‘extremely helpful’. Section 2 (level of involvement) was scored from 1
for ‘My supervisor/others did all of the work’ to 5 for ‘I did all of the work’.
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Table 1. Survey questions and response options.
Section 1 (Perceived Benefits)
Has your undergraduate research been helpful in improving your:
Options: not at all helpful; a little bit helpful; moderately helpful; largely helpful; extremely helpful; or not
applicable to my project
Question 1
Ability to work independently
Question 2
Ability to collaborate with other researchers
Question 3
Understanding of the research process
Question 4
Self-confidence
Question 5
Sense of accomplishment
Question 6
Interest in your field
Question 7
Knowledge of ethical standards
Question 8
Ability to locate and identify relevant literature
Question 9
Ability to read and understand primary literature
Question 10
Ability to integrate theory and practice
Question 11
Critical evaluation of methods in literature
Question 12
Ability to solve technical or procedural problems
Question 13
Ability to collect data according to a plan
Question 14
Data analysis skills
Question 15
Statistical analysis skills
Question 16
Written communication skills
Section 2 (Level of Involvement)
Please rate your involvement on the following tasks relating to the final published work:
Options: My supervisor/others did all of the work; I did a small amount of the work; Myself and my
supervisor/others did a roughly equal share of the work; I did most of the work; or I did all of the work
Question 1
Reading relevant literature
Question 2
Developing hypotheses and/or methods
Question 3
Recruiting participant(s)
Question 4
Collecting data
Question 5
Data analysis
Question 6
Statistical analysis
Question 7
Interpretation of the findings
Question 8
Preparing the written report
Section 3 (Narrative Exploration)
Question 1
What was the most memorable experience you had during your time working on the
project?
Question 2
How did working on the project affect your personal growth
Question 3
What was the most difficult aspect of the research project experience?
Question 4
What do you believe you learned (if anything) that was unique to your experience in
this project that you did not learn in the traditional academic classroom?
Question 5
Any other comments?
All statistical analysis was performed in JASP Version 0.10 (Amsterdam,
Netherlands), with violin plots generated using the vioplot package32 in R Version 3.6.2
(R Core Team, 2019). Non-parametric analyses were performed due to the non-
normality (Shapiro-Wilk test: p ≤ 0.025) and ordinal nature of all Likert scale response
data. Friedman tests33, with Conover’s post-hoc comparisons34,35, identified
differences between survey items (i.e. which aspects of the research process had
greater or lesser perceived benefits or levels of involvement). A Holm correction36
controlled for multiple comparisons, with a p-value < .05 indicating statistical
significance. Kruskal-Wallis tests37 reported the effect of levels of involvement on
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potentially related perceived benefits (e.g. effect of involvement in preparing the written
report on perceived benefits in written communication skills; all tests listed in Table 2).
The false discovery rate was controlled for multiple comparisons via the Benjamini-
Hochberg procedure with a critical value for false discovery rate of .25 38.
All open responses in Section 3 (narrative exploration) were analysed in ATLAS.ti
Version 8.4.24.0 for Windows (ATLAS.ti Scientific Software Development GmbH,
Berlin, Germany) using a thematic analysis39. Following familiarisation, the data were
coded using phrases as the basic unit of analysis. These initial codes were sorted into
themes and subthemes, which were then reviewed using thematic maps as an aid.
RESULTS
Quantitative
A significant 2 = 49.058; df = 15; p < .001) between survey item effect was
reported for perceived benefits (Figure 2). Benefits relating to understanding of the
research process(median [interquartile range]: 5 [4.5, 5]) were perceived to be greater
than those relating to statistical analysis skills (4 [3, 5]; t = 4.111; p = .006), critical
evaluation of methods in literature(4 [3, 5]; t = 3.817; p = .019), and the ability to
collaborate with other researchers(4 [3, 5]; t = 3.695; p = .029). Benefits relating to
statistical analysis skills were also perceived to be less than those relating to the
ability to work independently (5 [4, 5]; t = 3.747; p = .024) and sense of
accomplishment (5 [4, 5]; t = 3.730; p = .026). No other significant differences in
perceived benefits were reported (.017 ≤ t ≤ 3.487; .063 ≤ p ≤ 1.000).
Figure 2 - Participant responses to perceived benefits of involvement in published undergraduate
research. White circle: median; black bar: interquartile range; blue density: frequency of each response.
Q1: ability to work independently; Q2: ability to collaborate with other researchers; Q3: understanding
of the research process; Q4: self-confidence; Q5: sense of accomplishment; Q6: interest in your field;
Q7: knowledge of ethical standards; Q8: ability to locate and identify relevant literature; Q9: ability to
read and understand primary literature; Q10: ability to integrate theory and practice; Q11: critical
evaluation of methods in literature; Q12: ability to solve technical or procedural problems; Q13: ability
to collect data according to a plan; Q14: data analysis skills; Q15: statistical analysis skills; Q16: written
communication skills. * p < .05; ** p < .01.
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A significant 2 = 26.107; df = 7; p < .001) between survey item effect was
reported for level of involvement (Figure 3). Level of involvement in ‘developing
hypotheses and/or methods’ (3 [2.5, 4]) was lower than that in ‘reading relevant
literature’ (4 [3, 5]; t = 3.740; p = .007), ‘recruiting participant(s)’ (4 [3, 5]; t = 3.269; p =
.034), and ‘data analysis’ (4 [3, 5]; t = 3.206; p = .041). No other significant differences
in levels of involvement were reported (.000 ≤ t 2.954; .088 p 1.000). Levels of
involvement had no significant effects on potentially related perceived benefits (.319
χ2 ≤ 9.000; Table 2).
Figure 3 - Participant responses to their level of involvement in aspects of published undergraduate
research projects. White circle: median; black bar: interquartile range; blue density: frequency of each
response. * p < .05; ** p < .01.
Qualitative
Narrative data highlighted that participants generally experienced a strongly
positive and beneficial undergraduate research experience. The findings of the
thematic analysis are presented as a series of five themes (see Figure 4 for a thematic
map): career (discussed in 22 question responses [q] by 17 participants [n]); skills (see
subthemes outlined below); scientific process (n = 14, q = 17), intra / interpersonal (see
subthemes outlined below); and pedagogy (n = 9, q = 9). The skills theme consisted
of three subthemes: academic skills (n = 20, q = 32); technical skills (n = 15, q = 27);
and organisational skills (n = 11, q = 15). The intra / interpersonal theme consisted of
both intrapersonal factors and interpersonal factors. Intrapersonal factors were
confidence (n = 15, q = 17), accomplishment (n = 15, q = 15), and independence (n =
6, q = 6). Interpersonal factors were supervision (n = 9, q = 10) and interpersonal skills
(n = 8, q = 10). The most frequent benefits mentioned in response to open questions
related to participants’ careers and confidence (Table 3). Most frequent challenges
related to academic, organisational, and technical skills.
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Table 2. Kruskal-Wallis tests for the effect of student / staff involvement levels on students’ perceived benefits of their involvement in published
undergraduate biomechanics research.
all correlations:
Chi-square effect size
(p value)
reading
relevant
literature
developing
hypotheses and/or
methods
recruiting
participant(s)
collecting
data
data
analysis
statistical
analysis
interpretation of
the findings
preparing
the written
report
ability to work independently
2.835
(.242)
8.179
(.085)
4.171
(.383)
1.710
(.635)
4.047
(.400)
2.670
(.614)
.944
(.815)
2.555
(.635)
ability to collaborate with other researchers
1.916
(.384)
8.064
(.089)
4.004
(.406)
5.952
(.114)
2.308
(.679)
.951
(.917)
.319
(.956)
1.917
(.751)
understanding of the research process
4.591
(.101)
7.109
(.130)
3.078
(.545)
2.187
(.534)
7.167
(.127)
3.810
(.432)
6.903
(.075)
6.557
(.161)
self-confidence
.964
(.617)
6.569
(.161)
5.920
(.205)
8.145
(.043)
6.075
(.194)
3.701
(.448)
1.456
(.692)
1.669
(.796)
sense of accomplishment
2.517
(.284)
2.414
(.660)
3.296
(.510)
5.771
(.123)
3.337
(.503)
2.465
(.651)
4.854
(.183)
4.874
(.300)
interest in your field
.652
(.722)
.590
(.964)
9.000
(.061)
7.181
(.066)
5.106
(.277)
3.060
(.548)
4.838
(.184)
2.118
(.714)
knowledge of ethical standards
-
4.404
(.354)
-
-
-
-
-
-
ability to locate and identify relevant literature
3.062
(.216)
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
ability to read and understand primary literature
.923
(.630)
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
ability to integrate theory and practice
4.042
(.133)
-
-
-
-
-
3.283
(.350)
5.848
(.211)
critical evaluation of methods in literature
2.658
(.265)
4.037
(.401)
-
-
-
-
-
-
ability to solve technical or procedural problems
-
-
-
.715
(.870)
7.036
(.134)
-
-
-
ability to collect data according to a plan
-
7.355
(.118)
-
1.324
(.723)
-
-
-
-
data analysis skills
-
-
-
-
4.476
(.345)
-
-
-
statistical analysis skills
-
-
-
-
-
4.177
(.383)
-
-
written communication skills
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
1.851
(.763)
Note: Controlling the false discovery rate (for multiple statistical tests) via the Benjamini-Hochberg procedure24 with a critical value for false discovery rate of .25 reported no
significant effects. Tests were only conducted for potentially related variables (e.g. effect of involvement in preparing the written report on perceived benefits in written
communication skills.
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Figure 4 - Thematic map of themes and subthemes emerging from experiences of undergraduates
publishing biomechanics research. n: number of participants discussing the (sub)theme; q: number of
question responses discussing the (sub)theme.
Table 3. Theme frequency (% of total responses for that theme) in response to each open
question.
question
theme
memorable
growth
difficult
unique
other
career
1 (5)
13 (59)
-
2 (9)
6 (27)
academic skills
2 (6)
4 (13)
12 (38)
14 (44)
-
technical skills
8 (30)
2 (7)
6 (22)
9 (33)
2 (7)
organisational skills
1 (7)
2 (13)
7 (47)
5 (33)
-
scientific process
4 (24)
4 (24)
1 (6)
8 (47)
-
confidence
1 (6)
14 (82)
-
2 (12)
-
accomplishment
11 (73)
2 (13)
-
-
2 (13)
independence
-
3 (50)
2 (33)
1 (17)
-
supervision
5 (50)
-
1 (10)
1 (10)
3 (30)
interpersonal skills
6 (60)
1 (10)
2 (20)
1 (10)
-
pedagogy
-
-
1 (11)
5 (56)
3 (33)
Participants perceived benefits for their future career, particularly within
academia, as a result of their involvement in the published research project. This was
largely through developing an interest in research and related career aspirations (e.g.
It encouraged me to further engage in research and it sparked a passion for
biomechanics in particular”) and/or through enhancing research-related skills that
remained beneficial beyond completion of the project (e.g. Today I am a Ph.D. student
because of what I learning [sic] during my undergraduate project.” and “…these skills
have proven valuable in my graduate training.”). Indeed, 68% of career responses
related to areas of growth or unique experiences not provided through alternative
teaching methods. No negative career-related comments were provided (Table 3).
Skills-related comments were the most common responses when discussing
difficulties and unique experiences (Table 3). Technical skills such as specialist
equipment or data analysis software were often mentioned as the most memorable
experience (e.g. Pilot testing and learning to use the motion capture equipment”). The
academic skills mostly related to writing, reviewing the scientific literature (e.g. how to
organise and annotate literature to make it easy to retrieve key information”), and
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applying theory to practise. Organisational skills generally related to unique and
challenging experiences of time-management, organising data collection, and
participant recruitment:
In terms of data analysis the project really enhanced my ability to sort through
data and setting targets for when the tasks should be finished by further
enhanced my ability to work through the data more efficiently.
Participants reported that the project enhanced their understanding of the
research process and scientific enquiry (e.g. I had a better understanding of what
research was and how it was undertaken.”). Numerous participants also developed an
increased awareness of the required standard of published work (e.g. The level of
work required to jump from an undergrad project to something you actually wanted
others to read”). Other comments highlighted the frequency and importance of
mistakes or problems during scientific research:
The experience made me aware of the fact that research is full of possible
human error.
Involvement in a published research project provided many participants with a
greater self-confidence, sense of accomplishment, and feeling of independence.
Comments relating to confidence most frequently (82%; Table 3) featured in relation
to personal growth (e.g. I was more confident in my ability to think on my feet after
conducting undergrad research.”). Sense of accomplishment was the single most
common type of memorable experience, frequently relating directly to the final
publication or presenting at a conference:
I presented pilot study results at an international conference and had numerous
researchers commend me for my work, with many taking photos of my poster to
help with their own projects.
Both supervision (50%) and interpersonal skills (60%) most frequently related to
memorable experiences within the project. Comments on supervision were mostly
positive (e.g. I think the differential was I had a good research group and an excellent
supervisor in my undergraduate”) except for one negative experience (“generally poor
support from supervisor”). Interpersonal skills generally related to collaboration (e.g.
Carrying out a research project through to a publishable standard through a collective
effort.”) or communication with participants (e.g. Ability to work with athletes in an
applied setting.”).
Pedagogical remarks typically occurred in relation to unique experiences (56%)
or additional comments (33%). Most comments compared the learning experiences
during the research project and alternative teaching strategies. For example,
Independent lead research, transition from being drip feed everything to taking full
responsibility was challenging” and In traditional academic classrooms you don't learn
how to adapt and pivot when undertaking research”.
Participants offered contrasting opinions on whether the experience would be
beneficial for all students. Positive statements included it is important to allow the
students to be able to learn and try specialised methods in their research projects that
they have not been exposed to previously”. Two participants raised negative concerns,
such as I feel that not all undergrads should conduct research, perhaps those that
show promise and initiative. I can see how research could become irrelevant or tainted
by those who don't have the drive to criticize their own works.”. Potential implications
for the wider discipline were also discussed:
Although it was personally beneficial to me, I don't believe it is that beneficial to
the field and progress in sports biomechanics. [Undergraduate] dissertations are
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supposed to be a student's first experience of doing research. It is also supposed
to be largely independent work. When you put these together, it is difficult to see
how work can be of a standard that merit publication in journal if the goal is to
advance the field. Sports science journals are now littered with… student papers
as academics scramble to publish their students' work to improve their research
record
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to investigate student experiences of publishing
undergraduate research in biomechanics. It was primarily hypothesised that students
would perceive their experience as beneficial across all aspects of the research process.
On average, students perceived their experiences to be ‘largely helpful’ or greater in all
aspects. It was further hypothesised that the greatest benefits would be perceived when
staff and students worked collaboratively, and would include self-confidence, academic
/ research skills, career preparation, and a sense of accomplishment. Areas were
identified corresponding to the greatest (e.g. understanding of the research process)
and least (e.g. statistical analysis skills) perceived benefits and the greatest (e.g. reading
relevant literature) and least (e.g. developing hypotheses and/or methods) student
involvement. Themes were identified in narrative responses relating to future career,
skills, scientific process, intra / interpersonal factors, and pedagogy.
When interpreting the results, it is important to consider survivorship bias. Survey
respondents are more likely to have experienced positive effects and subsequently
remained in academia than those who did not respond or were not identified through
the largely academic networks utilised for recruitment. It should be remembered that the
present study was largely exploratory in nature. Participant recruitment, and hence
statistical power, was limited by the relatively small population size of interest (former
students with experience of publishing undergraduate research) and so any lack of
significant effect should not be interpreted as evidence of no effect. The sample was
sufficient to enable ‘theoretical saturation’ via the thematic analysis30,40.
Both quantitative and qualitative data support the primary hypothesis that students
would perceive their experience as beneficial across all aspects of the research process.
These findings provide support for research-based student opportunities within
biomechanics. These can be designed around inquiry-based activities in which the
scope for interactions between teaching and research is deliberately exploited and the
opportunity for publication is presented9. In this regard, the current findings are in
agreement with previous research in other disciplines17,18,21.
Students perceived the greatest benefits in general concepts such as
understanding the research process and their sense of accomplishment. They
perceived the least benefits in specific research skills such as statistical analysis skills
and critical evaluation of methods in the literature. This difference may relate to the often
relatively narrow range of techniques experienced during a single research project in
comparison to those taught in undergraduate programmes22. Undergraduate research
also appears to be more beneficial for developing independent rather than collaborative
skills. This is likely due to the independent nature of many undergraduate projects.
These findings contrast with those of Salsman et al.16 for non-published undergraduate
maths and science research, perhaps due to unique features of research with
publication potential.
Participants in the current study reported the greatest levels of involvement in time-
consuming aspects such as reading relevant literature, recruiting participants, and
analysing data. They reported the lowest levels of involvement in developing hypotheses
and/or methods, a critical design stage of the research process. This corroborates
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previous results for non-published undergraduate research in maths and science16. It is
possible that the greater perceived benefits in broad outcomes such as sense of
accomplishment relate to the greater student involvement in less technical aspects of
biomechanics research. A lower reported level of student involvement may alternatively
reflect greater staff involvement, something previously linked to beneficial
outcomes1,2,16. However, effects of student / staff involvement in specific tasks on
potentially related perceived benefits were not statistically significant. The hypothesis
that the greatest benefits would be perceived when staff and students worked
collaboratively can therefore not be confirmed.
Themes identified from qualitative data were similar to those identified in similar
studies within other disciplines. This is despite the known effect of discipline
characteristics on links between teaching and research19,20. For example, it was
unknown what effect the unique nature of data collection and analysis techniques taught
in undergraduate biomechanics programs2226 would have on student research
experiences. Indeed, in the present study technical skills such as specialist
biomechanics equipment or data analysis software were often mentioned as students’
memorable experiences of the research process. Equivalent themes to confidence,
academic skills, career, and accomplishment have recently been identified in
psychology17,18. The themes broadly covered all aspects of the research process, again
supporting the primary hypothesis. Whilst the majority of comments were positive, it is
noteworthy that the three subthemes relating to skills (academic, organisational, and
technical skills) were the most frequent difficulties encountered. Both qualitative and
quantitative responses suggest that participants perceived benefits in these skills and
so the challenges reported should not be considered as a negative outcome. Narrative
responses suggest that the demand for independent skill execution may reflect the
greatest difference between taught content and research project tasks. Taken together,
the data only partially support the secondary hypothesis that students would perceive
the greatest benefits in self-confidence, academic / research skills, career preparation,
and their sense of accomplishment. It should be noted that career responses (and the
associated Likert scale questions) primarily related to academia rather than industry.
Likewise, all skills-related benefits are reported as perceived benefits and it is not clear
how these skills were subsequently applied. An evaluation of subsequent career
destinations was beyond the scale of this study. Despite research and inquiry skills
being central to professional careers in industry as well as academia41, a large
proportion of students do not perceive that they will need them42. The current results
suggest that undergraduate research involvement may help students to appreciate the
potential benefits for future careers.
The identified themes support the application of a number of Healey’s strategies
for linking research and teaching9. For example: ‘scientific process’ supports developing
students’ appreciation of research in the discipline’; ‘academic skills’ supports
developing students’ research skills’; and ‘supervision’ and ‘interpersonal skills’ both
support ‘giving students the opportunity to work on research projects alongside staff’. It
seems that these outcomes may be achieved through involvement in the research
process independently of the level of staff involvement, although staff involvement has
previously been linked positively to student effort16. Staff wishing to utilise ‘assignments
that involve elements of research processesor teaching and learning processes that
simulate research processes’, two more of Healey’s9 strategies, should make informed
decisions regarding their level of involvement in each aspect of the research process
based upon pedagogical principles.
Engaging students in biomechanics research projects with publication potential
can have beneficial consequences for the students and should therefore be
13
recommended where possible. Student activities within such projects should be
constructively aligned to intended learning outcomes43. It is unclear to what extent these
results can be generalised to wider undergraduate biomechanics cohorts. Students
engaging in publishable research likely differ in ability and/or experience to those
conducting typical student projects, and as such the reported perceived benefits may
differ to those experienced by entire cohorts44. One participant suggested that the
opportunity to work on publishable research projects should be reserved for perhaps
those that show promise and initiative. Whilst it may be true that not all students have
the potential to publish their research, the present results support the inclusion of
research-based teaching within undergraduate biomechanics curriculum design.
Departmental case studies highlight the possibility of research with all students as a
course distinguishing feature while also creating a specialist pathway for selected
students with publication potential11.
Indeed, the ‘student as scholar’ model requires a culture of inquiry-based learning
infused throughout the entire curriculum45. This necessitates a pedagogical transition
from ‘telling students what they need to know’ to ‘encouraging students to seek and
discover new knowledge’45,46. It may be beneficial to design research opportunities into
formative and summative processes for many or all students in ways that reflect the
publishing process (e.g., undergraduate research journals, student research
conferences and exhibitions)21,47,48. Student involvement in published biomechanics
research appears to be particularly successful in emphasising the uncertainty of the task
and facilitating the experience of scientific productivity46. Healey and Jenkins suggest
progressively developing students’ understanding of research throughout the multi-year
curriculum4951. This progression would see introductory courses present knowledge as
created, uncertain and contested. Advanced courses would progressively develop
students’ capacities to do research, leading to a graduating year (capstone courses) in
which students carry out a summative research project, collaborating with staff in a
similar manner to the experiences reported in the current study4951. For the benefits
reported in this study, it may be constructive to create a particular period of the year
when students can focus entirely on undergraduate research, or to ensure timetables
allow dedicated time for research activities11. Future investigations of potential
confounding variables such as research group size and supervisor experience may
provide further insight6.
Given the lower perceived benefits relating to statistical analysis, it may be prudent
to focus on related methods and techniques in the intermediate years of study leading
up to any summative research project. Rather than a linear process from highly
structured to highly independent, it has been recommended that students be given
independence in an early project to build motivation, similarly to some of the reported
benefits in the current study11. Alongside the multi-year model discussed above, this
approach would see students firstly build motivation through guided and open inquiry,
before focusing on methods and techniques, and finally undertaking independent (or
collaborative) research projects prior to graduating. Given the emergence of ‘career’ as
a theme within the current study, it may be beneficial for staff to explicitly link
undergraduate research and inquiry to student employability or to involve students in
industry-based research projects11,52.
At an institutional level, the Council on Undergraduate Research recommends:
adding student research mentoring into mission statements and strategic plans; building
student research mentoring into workload; rewriting tenure, promotion, and review
documents to value student research mentoring; honouring staff-student collaborations
with targeted internal research funds; providing time for research-based curriculum
redesign; establishing awards to honour student research mentoring; and establishing
14
best practices in student research mentoring53. Departmentally, integration of research
and teaching organisational structures may facilitate a more integrated approach, and
broader definitions of what counts as research may make it easier for staff to engage
undergraduates in research and inquiry11. The ideal culture of students wanting and
expecting to participate in research may be facilitated by transparent rules on the quality
of work necessary for dissemination, and the involvement of all members of the
university community in celebrating undergraduate research outputs52. This latter
suggestion may extend the sense of ‘accomplishment’ identified in the present study
beyond only those students publishing peer-reviewed research. Readers are directed to
Jenkins et al. for departmental and institutional intervention case studies50. Resources
to support staff and students in collaborative undergraduate research are available via
the Council on Undergraduate Research (www.cur.org). For wider literature on the
integration of research and teaching beyond student research projects, readers are
encouraged to explore the entirety of Healey’s research-teaching nexus (Figure 1)9.
In summary, students reported positive experiences of publishing undergraduate
biomechanics research, with their level of independence varying across the process.
Common intended learning outcomes may be achieved through this involvement in the
research process. Student experiences related to their future career, skills, the scientific
process, intra / interpersonal factors, and pedagogy. Such research-based teaching
strategies are especially effective in achieving broad non-technical objectives such as
an understanding of the research process, sense of accomplishment, and ability to work
independently. As such, staff should be encouraged to involve students in biomechanics
research projects through research-based curriculum design where it is possible to do
so without compromising research standards and should explore ways of recreating the
publishing process internally for all students.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.
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