Getting an early start

February 10, 2014

Little bit of help program at the University of Alberta

 

The University of Alberta’s Little Bit of Help program gives undergrad students opportunities to assist with medical research.

It’s amazing to see how the students have grown. And when you try to teach anything to 40 undergrads, you realize that everything you thought was obvious may not actually be obvious.

Research is something undergraduates rarely experience.

Now a new program at the University of Alberta (U of A) is aiming to change that, by creating opportunities for undergraduate students from various faculties to assist with important medical research.

Dr. Piushkumar Mandhane, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the U of A, was the driving force behind bringing the Little Bit of Help (LBoH) program to the university.

“It has done really well at other centers like Stoney Brook (in New York state) and the University of Pennsylvania,” he explains. “And I thought there was an opportunity to put it to work here.”

Little bit of help programDr. Mandhane understands that some people are skeptical about undergraduate students undertaking this kind of research – a reservation he says is unfounded.

“Centers with longstanding LBoH programs have reported outstanding data. One study showed that 97% of undergrad students filled out the data fields correctly. And when they looked at residents versus undergrad students for chart extraction, the undergrad students actually did better.”

He also notes that faculty who participate in LBoH programs also have a ten-fold increase in publications and achieve many more national grants. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Undergrad researchers undergo a rigorous training program and then commit to a minimum of four hours per week for the entire school year.

“It’s a big commitment, but they see the value in it. And we’re working toward having it recognized as a co-curricular activity on student transcripts.”

For Dr. Mandhane, who volunteers countless hours to leading the program, it has been a rewarding experience.

“It’s amazing to see how the students have grown. And when you try to teach anything to 40 undergrads, you realize that everything you thought was obvious may not actually be obvious,” he laughs.

“It’s made me a better teacher and a better researcher.”

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