Perceived enablers and constraints of motivation to conduct undergraduate research in a Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences : what role does choice play?

Marais, Debra Leigh ; Kotlowitz, Jessica ; Willems, Bart ; Barsdorf, Nicola W. ; Van Schalkwyk, Susan (2019)

CITATION: Marais, D. L., et al. 2019. Perceived enablers and constraints of motivation to conduct undergraduate research in a Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences : what role does choice play?. PLoS ONE, 14(3):1-23, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0212873.

The original publication is available at http://journals.plos.org/plosone

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

Article

Background: Enhancing evidence-based practice and improving locally driven research begins with fostering the research skills of undergraduate students in the medical and health sciences. Research as a core component of undergraduate curricula can be facilitated or constrained by various programmatic and institutional factors, including that of choice. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) provides a framework for understanding the influence of choice on student motivation to engage in research. Aim: This study aimed to document the enablers and constraints of undergraduate research at a South African Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) and to explore how the presence or absence of choice influenced students’ engagement with research in this context. Methods: An exploratory descriptive design was adopted. Undergraduate students who had conducted research and undergraduate programme staff were recruited through purposive sampling. Semi-structured interviews were transcribed and thematically analysed. Findings were interpreted using SDT, focusing on how choice at various levels affects motivation and influences research experiences. Results: Many of the programmatic and institutional enablers and constraints–such as time and supervisory availability–were consistent with those previously identified in the literature, regardless of whether research was compulsory or elective. Choice itself seemed to operate as both an enabler and a constraint, highlighting the complexity of choice as an influence on student motivation. SDT provided insight into how programmatic and institutional factors–and in particular choice–supported or suppressed students’ needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, thereby influencing their motivation to engage in research. Conclusion: While programmatic and institutional factors may enable or constrain undergraduate research, individual-level factors such as the influence of choice on students’ motivation play a critical role. The implication for curriculum development is that research engagement might be enhanced if levels of choice are structured into the curriculum such that students’ needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met.

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