Developing the Knowledge, Skills, and Attitude (K/S/A) for Pharmaceutical Science Through a Simulated Internship Experience in a Virtual Pharmaceutical Drug Discovery and Development Company

TAN Yeong Lan & CHNG Hui Ting
Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Science (FoS)

Yeong Lan and Hui Ting share their experiences of developing two lab modules where students experience a simulated pharmaceutical science internship in a virtual drug company, giving them the opportunity to apply key pharmaceutical science concepts akin to a real-life lab setting.

Photo courtesy of NUS Faculty of Science, Department of Pharmacy
Tan Y. L. & Chng H. T. (2022, April xx). Developing the knowledge, skills, and attitude (K/S/A) for pharmaceutical science through a simulated internship experience in a virtual pharmaceutical drug discovery and development company. Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2022/04/27/developing-the-knowledge-skills-and-attitude-k-s-a-for-pharmaceutical-science-through-a-simulated-internship-experience-in-a-virtual-pharmaceutical-drug-discovery-and-development-company/

 

Practical or laboratory (lab) lessons in the undergraduate Pharmacy curriculum typically aim to provide hands-on experience for students to perform experiments related to key concepts taught in a module. However, oftentimes, these experiments are isolated, and students have difficulty connecting the former’s relevance to their future jobs or scientific research.

Two modules in the new Bachelor of Science (Pharmaceutical Science) programme1 ⸻PHS2191 “Laboratory Techniques in Pharmaceutical Science I” and PHS3191 “Laboratory Techniques in Pharmaceutical Science II”)⸻ are dedicated to honing lab skills relevant to the discipline. Specifically, the learning outcomes of these modules are to equip students with the knowledge, skills and attitude (K/S/A) applicable in pharmaceutical research (Figure 1). To achieve the learning outcomes, we conceptualised the two modules to simulate a 1-year internship in a virtual pharmaceutical drug discovery and development company to enable students to draw associations between different experiments and see their relevance to the drug discovery and development process.

Figure 1. The “knowledge, skills and attitudes” (K/S/A) learning outcomes of PHS2191 and PHS3191.
Figure 1. The “knowledge, skills and attitudes” (K/S/A) learning outcomes of PHS2191 and PHS3191.

In PHS2191, the simulation involves students being attached to the virtual company’s medicinal chemistry team, while subsequently in PHS3191, they are rotated to the pharmacology team as well as the drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK) team (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Slide shown to students on the concept of the two laboratory modules, simulating an internship in a virtual drug discovery and development company.
Figure 2. Slide is shown to students on the concept of the two laboratory modules, simulating an internship in a virtual drug discovery and development company.

PHS2191 includes experiments where students learn about the synthesis and characterisation of compounds. They are also exposed to in silico approaches to drug design. Thereafter, students will bring the compounds they synthesised in PHS2191 to PHS3191 to perform biological and DMPK assays. This process parallels what happens in a drug discovery and development company, where compounds are first synthesised and characterised by medicinal chemists, followed by the characterisation of activity and pharmacokinetic profiles by the pharmacology and DMPK teams.

Besides honing technical skills, the practicals are also designed to allow students to learn how to plan their experiments. For example, in a typical PH3191 practical session, students are guided in the thought process to plan an experiment which fulfils a given research objective (Figure 3). This is unlike practical lessons in the past where we provided full experimental procedures for students to follow and perform the experiments. By carrying out the former, students have the opportunity of reading beyond their lecture notes, acquiring new knowledge, thinking out of the box, and learning to work independently. All these K/S/A are essential in the pharmaceutical science R&D industry where scientists need to design, optimise and troubleshoot experiments, especially when establishing new research programmes.

In this learning process, the lecturers are akin to supervisors training new scientists in a lab where more directed instructions and experimental background are provided in the initial stages. However, this process eventually evolves to be more consultative towards the end of the module which culminates in a mini-project where students design their own experiments based on a specified research aim and specified resources. The lecturers would provide feedback before the students proceed with their experiments.

Figure 3. Slides shown to students to brief them on what they are expected to do in an upcoming DMPK experiment, given the (A) background and aim of experiment and (B) guiding questions to facilitate planning and discussion within groups of 2-3 students.

Thus far, for the two semesters where these modules were offered, at least 40% of the students gave an overall comment of “Very Good” in the module feedback and there were no students who graded the module as “Poor” and below. Furthermore, students mentioned that the module have helped to “tie in and interrelate concepts learned in other modules” and in “giving them a taste of what conducting research is like”. Collectively, these positive comments indicated that the intended learning outcomes were achieved.

Nonetheless, some students have also highlighted their initial discomfort as “it took them some time to get used to doing the whole experiment on their own”. They suggested having “more guidance at the start as all of them are new to experimental design and planning, not performed in PHS2191”. Indeed, while the notion of nurturing independent work and learning is ideal and imperative, we noted on the need to scaffold the learning experience, to build confidence and competence in students. To enhance the learning experiences of future cohorts, a 30-minute duration will be set aside during every lecture slot for students to discuss their experimental design in their groups. This will enable facilitators to provide prompt feedback and correct any conceptual error in the early planning phase.

Altogether, we believe that the design of the two laboratory modules to simulate an internship experience has fostered confidence in our students and helped them develop a better idea on what to expect in related job roles. This may help them select a more suitable career path for themselves. Such a design concept could potentially be useful in the design of laboratory modules for other programmes as well.

 

tan yeong lan

TAN Yeong Lan is an Instructor with the Department of Pharmacy, NUS. She advocates the notion of mentoring beyond fundamental classroom teaching, to encourage proactive learning behavior in students. In doing so, Yeong Lan hopes to nurture students with a strong capacity to embrace future challenges, both in work and life.

Yeong Lan can be reached at tanyl@nus.edu.sg.

chng hui ting

CHNG Hui Ting is a Lecturer with the Department of Pharmacy, NUS. In class, she is a proponent of active and collaborative learning. Outside of class, she is actively engaged in mentoring student co-curricular activities. Guided by her teaching philosophy of “bringing out the child in you”, Hui Ting aims to rekindle the curiosity and joy of learning amongst students.

Hui Ting can be reached at phacht@nus.edu.sg.

 

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the practical teaching team (co-lecturers, teaching assistants, laboratory technicians and graduate assistants) for all their concerted and dedicated effort in designing as well as trialling the experiments and subsequently, implementing the modules successfully. We are also most grateful to the constructive feedback from our students in helping make the modules better!

Endnote

  1. The Bachelor of Science (Pharmaceutical Science) programme was launched in AY2018/19.