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Students thrive in the culture of a revamped Honours programme

Monday, 7 September 2015

Pharmacy Honours Programme Co-ordinator Shyamal Das with Honours students
Honours programme coordinator Shyamal Das with (from left) Nalini Ganaeswaren, Isabelle Kuan, and Catherine Ross; students in the Bachelor of Pharmacy with Honours (BPharm(Hons)) programme which was reintroduced this year after a 16-year absence. Photo courtesy of Lisa Reid.

Fourth-year students involved in the revamped Honours programme are thriving on the experience.

Eleven students are enrolled in the Honours programme this year, the first time it has been offered at the University of Otago's School of Pharmacy since being disestablished in 1998.

The students are required to undertake a research project over the summer between their third and fourth years of study.

Twenty-one year-old Isabelle Kuan is one of the students in the new group with her research focused on estimating kidney function by using a computer modelling technique to assist with drug dosing. Isabelle particularly enjoyed working alongside the PhD students during her laboratory work as they were very supportive, she says. "Through the Honours programme I now find myself interested and working on things that I had never dreamed of with many open doors full of great opportunities."

Fellow Honours student Catherine Ross (21) expressed similar sentiments about enjoying the postgraduate student culture while undertaking her research. Her laboratory group had been very welcoming and she was able to attend a conference with them last year and has attended some postgraduate events this year. "All of the postgraduate students have been great to have a bit of fun with as well as being happy to help and provide guidance when I get a bit out of my depth," she says.

Catherine has been working with a PhD student to create a system that will ensure a cancer drug is specifically targeting cancerous cells. She admits at times she has found the research project difficult when things do not work the way she expects and she has had to put some long hours in the lab to get good results. "At the same time I have enjoyed combining knowledge from the literature and the results of my experiments to gather the information we need to make the formulations work. The part I have enjoyed the most is learning new skills in the lab and learning how to use different equipment to analyse my formulation."

Nalini Ganaeswaren (23) is a Malaysian student and hopes to be able to apply the knowledge she gains through the BPharm(Hons) programme in the future. Her research looks at the delivery of drugs used for treating tuberculosis directly to the lung via inhalation. "The Honours programme has opened up a lot of new possibilities, especially the opportunity to do a PhD in the near future," Nalini says.

Honours programme coordinator Shyamal Das says the programme’s graduates will be eligible for direct entry to the university's PhD programme.

Dr Das says the Honours programme is designed to enable high-achieving students to take part in research during their final year of study and is aimed at students considering an academic or research career. Students apply to be accepted into the programme and are selected based on their grade point average and passion for research.

In recent years students interested in undertaking research have participated in summer scholarships. However, due to university requirements, if students are interested in undertaking a PhD, they have to complete two summer scholarships which is an issue when places in the programme are limited.

Associate Dean (Research) Professor Sarah Hook says the Honours programme allows for a more academically-challenging year for students. Students remain part of the fourth-year class but are assigned extra work to complete with their assignment as well as attending extra tutorials.

The design of the programme also means that Honours students will be able to graduate at the same time as their peers.

More information about the Bachelor of Pharmacy with Honours (BPharm(Hons))