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Keywords:

  • competencies;
  • dietetic education;
  • qualitative;
  • research

Abstract

Aim

To qualitatively evaluate a learning and teaching intervention for developing research and evaluation competencies, structured around the experience of having to conduct a significant research project.

Methods

A qualitative study utilising semi-structured interviews among a sample of 25 recent graduates from Griffith University's Master of Nutrition and Dietetics Program. Interviews explored student motivations for doing the research major, the student's experience of the full-time semester long research project, and the actual and perceived outcomes of this experience. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analysed via open coding and triangular analysis by three of the authors.

Results

All of the graduates interviewed had conducted research projects across a range of practice settings. Motivations for electing to do the research major varied from disinterest in other options to an opportunity to ‘taste-test’ research, to develop research competencies and secure pathways to later research studies. The student learning experience was described as intense, stressful but rewarding and a steep learning curve. Graduates reported that they learned much more than research competencies during this process and many converted this research activity into a research output (journal article or conference abstract). Students reflected on the strong sense of achievement associated with research outputs and the competitive advantage it had provided on seeking graduate employment.

Conclusions

It is possible to develop graduate dietitians' research and evaluation competencies using curriculum initiatives that exploit experiential learning. Exposing students to the research practice cycle culminating in peer-reviewed publication builds research self-efficacy and positions students for good employment outcomes.