case study
Published: 01 March 2021

Open research principles for vet students

Dr Simon Archer, Lecturer in Veterinary Clinical Research, describes how open research principles related to research pre-registration have been included in the learning and teaching of clinical research methods at undergraduate level. 

Simon Archer
Dr Simon Archer

The issue

Confusing exploratory with confirmatory research can be dangerous, leading to misinformed decision making in practice. This is the case where findings are falsely positive (statistically significant) and there is insufficient transparency to check the working.

In the veterinary field, a lack of research to inform clinical decisions is common.

Despite cautious language in papers, there’s a risk that false positive exploratory findings are interpreted as evidence. Students are taught to rank strength of evidence based on research study design, which doesn’t currently include the pre-registration of research. Pre-registration provides an audit trail to track how closely planned methodology is followed, avoiding issues related to multiple hypothesis testing in confirmatory studies.

The solution

We demonstrated to undergraduate students at the beginning of their research training:

  • The importance of research study pre-registration as a marker of research quality and trustworthiness
  • Differences between exploratory and confirmatory research in relation to utility for clinical decision making.

To simulate pre-registration, students were provided with a research question and asked to develop a study plan. They went on to construct a hypothesis and design a study of their own. This occurred before doing a version of the research in a subsequent module.

This was done to empower them to reflect and appraise the subsequent research, and develop the critical skills required for evidence-based practice.

The outcome

Students found the study design assignment challenging and required more guidance than anticipated. A common reason for this was the need to make judgements and assumptions to construct a hypothesis from a research question. This could be mitigated by providing more focused research questions and support.

A barrier to learning was an absence of veterinary examples of pre-registered confirmatory research in the public domain. Consequently, a lack of awareness of pre-registration among staff may have contributed to inconsistent teaching, too. Absence of relevant examples was overcome by highlighting requirements for pre-registration of regulatory studies in the pharmaceutical industry. This is of relevance through supporting availability of high quality, safe, and efficacious human and animal medicines.

Find out more about research pre-registration.

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