Reflecting in Pharmaceutical Sciences
As a future pharmaceutical sciences professional, research orientated reflection is an important part of evidence-based practice. As you work, whether as a student or a professional, you will need to regularly and consistently evaluate and modify your practice by consulting the most up-to-date, reliable information. This can come from various sources, for example, new research findings, updated policy information about government or organisational bodies, or new experiences that you have learned by interacting with patients or clients.
What should you reflect about?
When reflecting on an experience (such as an internship), you should focus on one key skill that you used and can improve. You can choose any of the critical thinking, communication, teamwork, science inquiry or laboratory (CCTSL) skills to discuss:
Example of a student’s reflection
Read the student reflection samples on laboratory skills below.
I completed my first two weeks of laboratory based sessions in the Drug Discovery Biology Labs at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Introduces what happened.
I was very excited about starting the hands-on lab component of my degree in a lab that specialises in the characterisation of human stem cell-derived cortical neurons using human inducible pluripotent stem cells.
Adds detail to what happened and describes the emotions felt.
I was introduced to the lab heads who spoke to me about the various pharmacological and neurochemical projects used to develop treatments for schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. I observed how pluripotent stem cells are propagated into a cortical neuronal phenotype via viral transduction of biosensors, which was really fascinating. I noticed how important aseptic technique is in the transduction process, and the amount of skill required to do this correctly. One thing that stood out for me was the way postdocs and research assistants work in a methodical way on a number of different experiments.
Goes into more detail about what happened, including what was particularly interesting and how they felt.
During these weeks, I noticed how important organisation and preparation of reagents ahead of time enables the smooth running of experiments.
Begins the analysis of the event.
I can see that this approach can help me improve the way I organise and prepare my approach to my studies so that I can finish my assignments before the due date and be better prepared for the exams. I may struggle to apply this type of discipline and keep it going for the duration of my studies, but I am determined to apply it to the best of my ability. It is possible that my struggle to apply this might be because I neglect to start assignments weeks before they are due, and instead try to finish them in the week prior to submission.
Analyses how the event relates to current role as a student of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Another thing that made a big impact on me was how well lab staff work with each other to establish a synchronous workflow. These crucial lab skills highlight the importance of teamwork, communication, critical thinking and problem solving as vital skills that I will need to master as a future pharmaceutical sciences professional.
Analyses how the event relates to the study and profession of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The short time I spent in the Drug Discovery Biology Labs has impacted my learning by highlighting some very important implications for my future practice as a pharmaceutical sciences professional.
Sums up the content and reflects on proposed actions to improve.
I am more aware of the theoretical and practical gaps in my knowledge and the ways I can apply this to improve my lab skills for future research. I understand that acting on one's feedback is key to improving one's abilities and skills and will likely lead to successful outcomes.
Reflects on proposed actions to improve in future.
I will ensure that I familiarise myself and read up on aseptic techniques, paying particular attention to practices and procedures that prevent contamination from pathogens. I should seek to develop strategies that aid in the process of understanding and retaining theoretical knowledge. Therefore, to avoid such disappointment I will endeavour to pay particular attention to the lecture material that clearly outlines these and other important research techniques. This might involve things like setting a realistic timeline with an end date set for the end of the semester to become more organised in planning my study load by using a semester planner. At the end of the semester, I can evaluate my progress so I can determine that I have achieved my set goals within the allocated time frame. Organisation is an important aspect of everyday life, and being organised leads to better assignment writing. I am going to focus on organising my study space so that it is neat and tidy, and there is ample room to assemble and write my assignments.
Proposes numerous steps and actions to improve in future after having learned from the experience.
Making sense of feedback
It can sometimes be daunting to receive feedback on not only your writing, but also on how you have reflected on a personal experience.
It’s important to remember that the feedback you receive from your lecturers is there to help you improve not only your reflective practice, but also the skills you will need as a scientist. It’s therefore important to not take feedback personally, and rather look at it as a way to grow professionally.
Your feedback will often be given to you using the ‘Keep Start Stop’ method. Below is an example of the feedback given to the above reflection example.
Keep Start Stop example
Feedback provided to student
Keep Start Stop explained
KEEP - writing these honest reflections. The more you practise the better you will become in refining and improving your reflective skills. Continue to improve your laboratory skills by putting in the time to read up on the theory that is pertinent to the techniques that you observed so you have a thorough understanding of the implementation of these techniques in a research laboratory setting. Continue to reflect on the synergy between people working in the same laboratory, as it will be interesting to reflect on whether this is related to team dynamics and/or staff selection.
The KEEP section is where your skills coach, lecturer or tutor will highlight what you’re doing well in your reflections, study, and professional practice. They may make recommendations on what you can focus on in future weeks as well, as this marker has done regarding the following week’s actions.
Also continue thinking about your actions for the following weeks. From what I can see here, the two weeks you spent in the laboratory were very busy and you had the opportunity to experience many different aspects of pharmaceutical-based research.
START - thinking of practical ways to incorporate timelines and structures around how you are going to improve your organisational skills. To do this, keep a weekly checklist so you can see how efficiently you are adhering to the weekly planner. On your next laboratory placement pay particular attention to the language and tone used by research staff, and how they organise their daily activities to ensure they carry out their experiments in an orderly manner. Start to think about practical ways to keep a record of the feedback you get from your skills coach so that you can see and act upon your learning in a holistic manner. MyPharm is ideal as a repository, even when you’re not reflecting upon that particular piece of feedback within a designated cycle.
The START section is where you will be encouraged to try reflecting in a new way, or engaging with your chosen skill more. Here, the emphasis is on laboratory skills and teamwork, and thus the marker’s feedback is highlighting the importance of looking to others to learn about professional research skills and communication.
Also, if you would like to enhance your ability to develop strategies that aid in the process of understanding and retaining knowledge, you can practise self-review strategies and assess your own understanding against the different components of the rubric so you can see for yourself if your perception and understanding of the assignments matches your assessor’s. This process will facilitate the development of your critical thinking skills. It is great to see that you are aiming to reflect on different ways teamwork can influence how you refine your reflective and problem-solving skills.
STOP - and think of a specific measurable, time-bound plan to turn your intention into action. You have said that you would like to improve your ability to plan your study load and thus be organised, but have you analysed your affective responses? It appears that you are more objective than you think.
The STOP doesn’t mean you need to stop doing something (though it sometimes might). It is there to highlight areas which need additional focus or improvement. In this case, the student is asked to take time to reflect more deeply in preparation for their next laboratory placement, and how learning from the laboratory placement can help them cope with the continued stresses of their degree.
OVERALL FEEDBACK - It is great to see that you are aiming to be better organised in your approach to your studies and life in general. Always remember that your strategies in your Now what? section should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). Keep up the great work!
Always remember that your coaches and lecturers want you to succeed; their comments are there to push you to achieve more and become the best researcher/scientist possible.
Agreed actions in your Personalised Learning Plan (PLP - a plan describing the placement goals and how these are achieved) are the actions that you have taken into consideration once you have received the comments from your Skills coach. A simple way to address your agreed actions is to write a SMART goal for your proposed action.
For example, your skills coach has commented on the use of practical ways to record your feedback so that you can at a glance see and act upon your learning as a whole. The agreed action that you have decided on could be using MyPharm as a repository, even if you are not reflecting upon something that was addressed in your feedback within a particular cycle.
Example of Agreed Action plan
Below is the Agreed Action plan the student wrote in relation to their feedback.
Student’s Agreed Action plan
Good practice explanation
As I had planned, I have started using a semester planner as one of my proposed strategies to help me in the process of understanding and retaining theoretical knowledge.
The Agreed Action is like a mini-reflection in itself, where you focus on a skill which either you or your coach identified needed more work. In this case, the student is looking at a specific measurable, time-bound plan to turn an intention into action by applying a semester planner (problem-solving) to assist with consolidating the skill more deeply.
For me personally, it's great to learn from different laboratory staff and notice that they are well organised in the way they conduct their daily routines by preparing reagents ahead of time for the smooth running of experiments.
The student here reflects on what they have learned during the last fortnight. Here, this sentence outlines how important time management in a research laboratory setting has been stipulated for the student.
The postdocs and research assistants interact and share laboratory-based tasks according to each individual’s skills set, and attributes. This disseminates knowledge onto the student simultaneously (This stood out for me and I found this to be invaluable).
This has obviously has made a profound impact on the student (which the coach has alluded to) and is now reflecting back on what the student saw, and how postdocs and research assistants within a team, rely on each other’s strengths to ensure that experiments are carried out in a methodical and timely manner. This addresses the feedback of working on time management taking a closer look at laboratory based tasks and communication in a research laboratory setting.
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Holm, D., & Stephenson, S. (1994). Reflection- A student’s perspective. In A. Palmer, S. Burns, & C. Bulman, (Eds.), Reflective practice in nursing: the growth of the professional practitioner (pp. 53–62). Blackwell Scientific Publication.
Thamby, S. A., & Subramani, P. (2014). Seven star pharmacist concept by World Health Organisation [editorial]. Journal of Young Pharmacists, 16(2),1–3. . https://doi.org/10.5530/jyp.2014.2.1
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