The Current State of Student Research:  Are we Missing the Mark?

By: Victoria L. Williams, PharmD

Under the Social/Administrative/Behavioral Sciences category of the Foundational Sciences in Standards 2016 is “Research Design” – a broad outcome that tasks colleges of pharmacy with teaching the evaluation of research methods, protocol design, validity, and reliability of published research studies.  However, in today’s practice environments, simply evaluating research is insufficient.  Across clinical settings, pharmacists are conducting research to advance practice.1 Thus, we should consider if we are responsible for teaching students how to conduct research.  Some proposed strategies, alongside firsthand research experience, are described in Table 1.

Table 1. Teaching Research Alongside Firsthand Experience

Research Process StepTeaching Strategy
Project IdentificationIntroduce PICO and literature search/evaluation strategies early in the curriculum

Support early exposure to pharmaceutical sciences & pharmacy practice innovations
Protocol Development & IRB ApprovalLeverage university resources for CITI training & IRB process
Data Collection Streamline data collection methods training

Optimize available technologies (RedCap, Microsoft Excel, survey tools) and techniques (developing a “data dictionary,” random quality checks, etc.)
Analysis/ResultsUtilize local resources (statistical programs, biostatisticians, experienced researchers) to teach analytical skills  
Result Dissemination Consider local/state/national opportunities 

Apply for poster or podium presentations

Submit manuscript for review

Currently, research is largely taught and practiced throughout pharmacy residency training, rather than in PharmD curricula, due to a variety of limiting factors (Table 2).2 Despite this, PharmD students are told research experience is an important part of a strong residency application.  As a result, the majority of pharmacy residency applicants endorse prior experience, though the extent of such is not well-defined.Given the current research-related Standard and the fact that successful completion of a project is not a steadfast requirement for graduation, residency, or employment, some students gain research experience and others do not.  Our reactionary approach to connecting students with research opportunities results in “incomplete” experiences where students are not afforded the chance to see a project through from beginning to end.

Table 2. Limitations and Proposed Solutions for Facilitating PharmD Student Research2

LimitationsProposed Solutions
Time Constraints 
IRB approval

Academic calendar

Project management
Prioritize IRB-exempt projects as student-centered opportunities or engage students after projects are IRB-approved

Work outside of the academic year, allow for multi-year, longitudinal experiences

Ensure necessary data is accessible prior to engaging students
Student Engagement
Lack of interest

Lack of background knowledge
Project Selection
Allow students to self-select projects 
Identify the student’s area(s) of interest and promote joint project development with an expert mentor

Background Knowledge
Introduce principles of conducting research early in the curriculum
Streamline the “introduction/onboarding” process among cohorts of students
Project Execution


Financial support
Prioritize projects that are unique contributions to the literature, designed with sufficient scientific rigor, and reasonable in scope 

Adopt a culture of commitment to student research, praise student mentorship

Utilize free resources, budget for projects, prioritize publication in journals that do not charge publication fees

While tips are available for best practices for individual projects, less is known about effectively linking interested students with appropriate opportunities. Furthermore, who is responsible for creating and facilitating these opportunities? Some PharmD programs do so via a capstone experience, others utilize longitudinal advanced pharmacy practice experiences (or pathways), while others lack structure. How can we best offer interested students complete research experiences (design to dissemination) when desired?

One can argue that our curricula are already full and the academy’s focus should be on reconciling curricular hoarding, rather than adding additional content or requirements.  Does this leave the academy’s practice partners and preceptors to take on the challenge of teaching our students how to conduct research?

The likely answer is a shared responsibility.  However, before committing to such, we should investigate if this is a worthwhile use of effort and resources or if our current (inconsistent) approach is sufficient.  Consider the following: 

  • What is our current approach to PharmD student research across the academy? Is it working? If so, dramatic change may not be needed.
    • A comprehensive analysis of how colleges engage PharmD students in research via a survey of current practices across the academy is required. 

Because pharmacists will continue advancing practice through scholarly work, we must understand the optimal approach to educating and training pharmacists in conducting research.  Then, carefully adjusting our approach in a way that is mindful of the other demands of our learners and institutions is possible. Is additional inquiry into student research a worthwhile investigation or are we satisfied with our current results?


  1. Touchette DR, Bearden DT, Ottum SA. Research publication by pharmacist authors in major medical journals: changes over a 10-year interval. Pharmacotherapy. 2008;28(5):584-590. doi:10.1592/phco.28.5.584
  2. Deal EN, Stranges PM, Maxwell WD, et al. The Importance of Research and Scholarly Activity in Pharmacy Training. Pharmacotherapy. 2016;36(12):e200-e205. doi:10.1002/phar.1864
  3. Phillips JA, McLaughlin MM, Rose C, Gallagher JC, Gettig JP, Rhodes NJ. Student Characteristics Associated with Successful Matching to a PGY1 Residency ProgramAm J Pharm Educ. 2016;80(5):84. doi:10.5688/ajpe80584

Author Bio(s):

Victoria L. Williams is a Pharmacy Education & Innovation Fellow at The Ohio State University, College of Pharmacy and Critical Care Pharmacist at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Her educational interests include curriculum design/assessment, innovative teaching techniques, and student affairs.  In her free time, Victoria enjoys taking her pug puppy to the dog park, attending Orange Theory Fitness classes, and exploring new restaurants in Columbus.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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