Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Dean, K.A., O'Connor, R.;
NAIRTL 3rd Annual Conference
Establishing a learning curriculum: laboratory rotation projects in PhD science education
Trinity College Dublin
Poster Presentation
Optional Fields

While commonplace in the United States, the practice of laboratory rotations is not usually part of PhD education in science elsewhere in the world, including Ireland.  This is changing, however, with the establishment of structured PhD programmes, especially in the biomedical sciences.

Funded by the Health Research Board of Ireland in 2007, the PhD Scholars Programme in Cancer Biology at University College Cork is an example of a structured PhD programme.  Similar to the Wellcome Trust PhD studentships in the UK, students entering the PhD Scholars Programme in Cancer Biology receive their PhD-training over four years, with the first year devoted to taught elements and laboratory rotations and the remaining three years to thesis work. 

Within the PhD Scholars Programme, the laboratory rotations are the largest component of the first year and consist of three, twelve-week research projects in which the student is fully immersed in the laboratory.  Since the students are considered lab members for the duration of the rotation, the rotation experience is really a ¿learning curriculum¿ in which the ¿learners participate in communities of practitioners¿ (Lave and Wenger, 1991). 

While biomedical research is often focused on research outputs, the spirit of the laboratory rotations is different.  The emphasis is on the scientific process¿forming a hypothesis, testing it experimentally, and reflecting upon and refining the hypothesis based on observations.  Thus, we believe that the laboratory rotations will help our students develop a ¿scientific mindset¿ (Pearson et al., 2009), before beginning their PhD thesis work.

This presentation will describe our experiences with laboratory rotations for the first cohort of students in the PhD Scholars Programme in Cancer Biology over the 2008-09 academic year.  A summary of the laboratory rotation structure and procedures will be presented, as well as personal insights and observations from the 2008 PhD Scholars. 

Health Research Board of Ireland