27 May 2010

Great Expectations

By this time of the year, year 3 students have usually finished their exams and would assist in biomedical research as part of the training. This year, our original topic was to study the incidence of a disease and factors associated with its development. As we completed the project, it was evident that the number of patients developing the disease was smaller than expected. In effect, it would be difficult to identify the associated factors as planned.

After presenting the results, the boy in my group was obviously disappointed and felt they failed. I disagreed. First, this was a student project that lasted several weeks only. Inevitably, the data would be premature and could not be compared to international publications that represented years of hard work. Second, this is what research is about. Why do we still have to do a project if all the results must be as expected? In fact, I was glad that we had unexpected results. What better learning opportunity could one ask for?

In the end, we decided to report the unexpected results and work on a softer endpoint that the sample size could support. Honesty and problem-solving skills are the fundamental requirements in research. If the students have learned this, this module is successful.

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