Supporting postgraduate physiotherapy students:research exploring the student experience

Here at Coventry University, staff view supporting students in their academic journey as an important part of their role.  In order to understand what postgraduate students find most helpful in terms of support, we have carried out some research into this area.  As students begin their postgraduate study, many find it difficult to understand what is expected of them at master’s level.  Some students describe a light-bulb moment when they suddenly understand what this ‘mastersness’ concept means. In one of our studies (Shanley and Dalley-Hewer, 2017) we interviewed several of our MSc graduates who had described such a light-bulb moment.  They seemed to equate mastersness with ‘finding their own voice’, meaning they now felt confident to express their own informed opinions.  They described four main factors which contributed to this: time, reading, thinking and most importantly, discussion.  The findings of our study have contributed significantly to the way we structure and deliver our support for the PG students.

Another study in this area (Shanley and Lambon 2016) was carried out using a focus group with postgraduate physiotherapy students to explore their perspectives on academic support.  Our students felt that the timing of support was important and they highlighted three key periods where support is valued: before the course starts (e.g. reading material, contact with peers), early support (both academic and pastoral) and on-going support, particularly in relation to assessment.  We are currently developing our pre-course support materials in response to these findings.

At Coventry University, international students form a large proportion of our postgraduate physiotherapy students.  Our research exploring students’ perceptions of effective support (Shanley and Harrison, 2012), suggested that it is important to include a flexible pastoral support system, an induction programme which lasts for several weeks rather than the usual few days, feedback relating to academic work and the use of discussion groups to enhance learning.  These findings have helped us develop a support system for our international students which consistently receives positive feedback.

Jackie Shanley, Course Director MSc Advancing Physiotherapy  Practice


For more details of our research, see below:

  • Shanley J. and Harrison K. (2012) Transition of International Physiotherapy Students to Postgraduate Study: Evaluation of Support Strategies, European Congress of Physiotherapy Education, Vienna, 8-9 November 2012


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