Over the past year teaching and researching at the School of Medicine at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, I have encountered amazingly inspired and knowledgeable students. I found in many a genuine eagerness to take part in research and for a number of reasons, opportunities were seldom offered.
When I asked my students at the beginning of the semester their interest and relation with academic research, they displayed evidence of the impostor syndrome. Not that they seemed to feel they did not deserve to be part of the medical school, but rather that they felt they could not achieve research. They said that financial resources were absolutely necessary to conduct research, that students could not really conduct research, that you needed to be in Europe or in North America to be able to conduct research. I spent the semester trying – among other objectives – to convince them that they were able, as they are, i.e. Ecuadorian students with low research resources (allocated to students for research), to conduct research. As part of a project-based learning, I challenged them to create a research project with their classmates.
I challenged them to conduct a systematic review on a topic of their choice. With the little time they had and with the impressive motivation of a few, projects took off and results started to come out. Naturally, over the course of a single semester, with a single hour per week, we could not reasonably ambition to complete the research project but we ended up with very decent progress.
This semester, I am currently trying something slightly different, hoping for better results. I offered all students of the school of medicine to take part in research projects of their choice as well as the possibility to suggest new research projects.
It is only at its first steps but I can already identify some aspects. I find it more difficult to obtain results from the research groups. Students are used to having deadlines and clear homework lists. Because I am considering them as responsible adults, I am not giving them obvious deadlines. Instead, we agree on to-do-lists during catch up meetings. After four weeks of this new form of collaboration, I am wondering if this will bear as much fruit as it did over the course of my previous class.