OUTCOMES OF AN INNOVATIVE JOINT RESEARCH – PROFESSIONAL POSTGRADUATE PROGRAMS OF THE SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITAT INTERNACIONAL DE CATALUNYA
The School of Dentistry of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain) began its academic activity in 1997. Since the beginning, the holistic training or our undergraduates was considered of great importance. Thus, we aimed to expose the students to the school´s postgraduate and PhD programs to motivate them for higher academic training.
The postgraduate master degree started on 1998 and the PhD program a year later. All advanced programs (prosthesis, surgery, periodontics, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, esthetics and endodontics) would include research training. This required the students to develop a research study and to defend it in a research committee to obtain the postgraduate diploma. Thus, all postgraduate students would acquire the clinical knowledge and the research skills for their PhD studies. The postgraduate research programs changed with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) which allows enrolment in a PhD program with the training from an official master, whether professional or research oriented. This implied a change because each official master has different research training load depending on the type of master.
We adjusted the programs to ensure that the students would acquire the necessary competences to start their PhD upon finishing their master: The school offered two research-based official masters and required the students enrolled in a clinical or professional master degree, to also take a research master. Since clinical oriented students seem less attracted to research programs, we shaped the contents to introduce the research skills gradually: methodology, biostatistics analysis, management skills, etc. The students considered their exposure to these research tools of great interest. Furthermore, to ensure quality and sustainability of the program, a scientific advisory committee was set up. It is jointly formed by a person from each dentistry department and members of the school research management office. The committee assigns the tutors, monitors the progress, negotiates deadlines, etc. It may also provide support (e.g. methodology) with staff available to students and faculty.
During the 5 years prior to the implementation of the EHEA, (2006 - 2011) 274 students obtained their research qualification and 96 enrolled in the PhD program, of which 22 have completed it and 74 are progressing. Upon launching of the official master at the end of 2009, there was two-year coexistence of both programs; 43 students enrolled in both their professional/clinical master and one of the research masters. The first cohort is about to reach the completion and 4 have started their PhD. Internationalization and quality has also been stepped up. The school adopted the thesis by compendium of publications format; or required a thesis related article in a high-impact journal. In the first semester of 2012, 3 doctorate degrees were granted via the first approach and 4 through the second one.
The changes in the PhD and the official master programs have motivated researchers and equipped faculty with research competencies to enhance undergraduate education and interest for research. It shows the impact of teaching research skills to postgraduate students along with their professional master. A final year research project in the undergraduate degree is also driving faculty engagement in research and students in the acquisition of soft skills like resilience, rigour, excellence and pursuit for the truth.