Undergraduate Research: Co-Publishing With Students

By Jason Perepelkin, Assistant Professor, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition

Passive listening and dumping information on exams doesn’t give students the depth of learning and experience that lasts beyond the scope of a course. Having students engage with practitioners and specialists and in a real world environment helps students learn more deeply; chasing grades doesn’t do this but chasing experience does.

The elective fourth year course Marketing for Pharmacists is designed for up to 20 students. The course is a project based course where students, working in groups of two to three, work directly with a practicing pharmacist. By working directly with practitioners, on an issue identified by the practitioner, the students learn, in a hands-on manner, about a specific practice site, while the practitioner learns about marketing and how it can be used to enhance practice.

In the first year the course was offered there were 20 students, which is the maximum. This year, 6 students were enrolled, and as a result it could be run much more as a seminar. Half way through the course I thought (out loud), based on the enriching discussions around current events in pharmacy, if I was thinking we would’ve written a manuscript on these issues. The students came back a week later and said “can we do this?” I said only if all of you are willing to be involved. They said yes, so I approached a journal to see if they would be interested in an article surrounding our class discussions; the journal responded indicating their interest.

After working on the article as a group, and in consultation with myself, we submitted the manuscript for peer-review to the Canadian Pharmacists Journal at the beginning of December. In early January we received notification that our manuscript was accepted for publication, but required some minor revisions first. Since the students were not in the course anymore, and were out on experiential learning rotations across the country, I wasn’t sure if I was the one that would be completing the revisions; however, the students jumped at the chance to revise the manuscript, and even spoke of how they learnt, from the reviewers, how the manuscript can be enhanced. This allowed the students to experience the entire process, from the idea, to the research and drafting of the manuscript, to receiving feedback from peer-reviewers, and ultimately to acceptance. The manuscript was accepted the day after the revised manuscript was resubmitted, and will be published in the May/June 2015 issue.

I am not sure if this would work as well as it did, especially since it arose – after the course was half completed – from an organic process of critical thinking and discussion in class, with a different group because the maturity of the group and their willingness to cooperate was very high. As a sign of maturity, at the beginning of the course when students are to form groups of their choice, all agreed they were willing to work with anyone in the course (despite not being in the same ‘clicks’), and therefore I put all of their names in a hat and randomly selected members of each group.

Some students want to do this sort of a project and these students are the ones working on projects before they even start the course. If enrollment increased, it would be harder to ensure all papers got published and this could lead to disappointment for the students. A smaller class allows full participation in the publishing process, and in the course as a whole.

Context is incredibly important in making this work. For some students in this college marks are not as important as experience and peer-accountability is in motivating them to first enroll in the course, and second engage in the course and project. This sort of course gives students a different experience from traditional pharmacy courses, and brings recognition to other concerns such as how marketing can be used to better meet the needs of patients and the health care system as a whole. This is the first course of its kind in Canada, and provides those students that take the course the ability to learn a unique skill set that is not readily available once they enter practice; there are only a minimal number of continuing education opportunities in the area of marketing.

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