DEPARTMENT OF PHYSIOLOGY
In 1993 it became a requirement by the University that departments prepare a document outlining their Aims & Objectives. This could then be used in the future to assess progress with achieving various goals. The following represents the document distributed for consideration at a Meeting of the Department Board early in 1994. It is expected that this or a modified form of the document should be endorsed at a subsequent meeting of the Board in 1994. The text is as follows:
The Department of Physiology is one of the oldest of its kind in Australia and has been in existence since 1883 when Anderson Stuart was appointed to the Foundation Chair of Anatomy and Physiology. Its initial function was the teaching of medical students, but it now teaches, in addition, Science, Pharmacy and Dental students. It also has a substantial and increasing load of research students (BMedSc(Hons), BSc(Hons), BSc(Med)(Hons), BScDent(Hons), MSc, GradDipSc, and PhD). Research activity has developed mainly in the last 4 or 5 decades, with the Department of Physiology currently being one of the most active in the Faculty of Medicine and the University, and has a national and international reputation in a number of areas. The Department's activities were reviewed by a distinguished external group in 1991 and by the Australian Medical Council (AMC) in 1993. The Departmental submission for the 1991 review was extensive and provides much of the background information for the present Aims & Objectives. The reports from both reviews were extremely favourable and are available for inspection.
The academic staff of the Department meet weekly for one hour and this is the main forum in which departmental objectives are identified and departmental activities monitored. Members of the general staff are invited to this meeting when issues which concern them are considered. The full Departmental Board meets each semester and all general staff and student representatives are invited. Items for the agenda are requested in writing and minutes are kept and distributed.
The Department intends to maintain and improve its national and international profile as an active and successful teaching and research department. Our main mechanisms for achieving this aim are as follows.
o To continue to campaign for improvements in our building preferably by commissioning a new building.
o To continue to campaign for funding to the Department which is based on objective criteria related to the number of students taught and the amount and quality of research performed.
o To improve the quality of teaching by using small groups and modern methods of assessment in so far as the limitations on our funding allow.
o To be able to offer an appropriate Physiology course to all qualified students in the Faculty of Science who wish to include Physiology as part of a Science degree. At present qualified students who wish to study Physiology are prevented by Faculty of Science and University policy.
o To increase the number of honours and postgraduate students taught in the Department.
o To increase the quality of research output from the Department.
PLANS FOR ACHIEVING THE GENERAL OBJECTIVES
The Departmental submission to the Review Body in 1991 described in detail the deficiencies of the Anderson Stuart Building for modern teaching and research. The Review Body accepted these arguments and stated that 'the Anderson-Stuart Building is the major impediment to improvements in teaching and research performance'. Its first Major Recommendation (Review Committee Report P1) was that the 'University should address the need for a new building'. The University has addressed this need but unfortunately decided instead to institute a major refurbishment of the present building. This refurbishment will be more expensive than a new building and will further impede our teaching and research performance during its prolonged implementation. Thus monitoring our progress to any improvement in teaching and research has to be viewed in the light of an inevitable reduction in our performance while this necessary refurbishment continues. Our Departmental Annual Report of activities will continue to monitor progress towards this goal.
The Departmental submission to the Review Body in 1991 identified inadequate funding of the Department, by a detailed comparison of other departments in the Faculties of Medicine and Science. The 1991 Review supported our analysis and stated (Major Recommendation 12, P2) 'the Faculty of Medicine ... should examine funding of the pre-clinical departments to determine whether funding levels are appropriate.' Such arguments have been generally accepted in the University and have led to the development of the funding model based on student loads and the subject weightings used by the Department of Education, Employment and Training (DEET) (weighted student load). The Faculty of Medicine now also uses a version of this model and accepts that on this basis the Department of Physiology is underfunded. Unfortunately because of the difficulties of removing money from overfunded Faculties and Departments, neither the University nor the Faculty have fully implemented formula funding based on weighted student load. On current plans the underfunding will continue for a further 5 years.
An even more serious problem is that at present 99% of the formula depends on student load and only 1% on research activity. Furthermore distribution between Faculties does not depend on research activity. Thus a very active research department such as Physiology receives inadequate additional funding for its increased research activity. As a Department we believe improvements in teaching and research are possible within the present funding base, but we also believe that the University and the Faculty should make more strenuous efforts to achieve a rational funding base. Monitoring our progress towards improvements in teaching and research must recognise that departments which are under-funded face additional difficulties. In order to achieve this aim the Department has been active both at University and Faculty level in campaigning for rational funding based on weighted student loads and research activity. Our Departmental Annual Report of activities will continue to monitor progress towards this goal.
The Department teaches 12 individual undergraduate courses in addition to the research teaching at various levels. Approximately 1800 students take a course in the Department each year and their requirements are met by 15.5 academic staff. The major limitation on our teaching is that we can give only limited individual attention to students except those who continue to our Honours and postgraduate training. Instead we aim to give well-balanced and stimulating courses in Physiology based on lectures and practical classes. We recognise that small-group teaching can encourage more active learning and independent thought by students and we intend to institute this style of teaching to the extent that our funding base allows. In this section we deal first with general issues common to all our courses and then provide individual comments on specific courses as appropriate.
Each course has a course coordinator whom staff and students recognise as primarily responsible for a particular course. This individual co-ordinates all course activities in conjunction with relevant staff, the Head of Department, the Departmental Board and the Faculty. Within the constraints of University, Faculty and Departmental policy, this individual has considerable freedom to choose the material, style, teachers and assessment methods of a particular course. In courses which have contributions from several departments, a formal interdepartmental committee coordinates contributions from different departments; in courses run entirely within a department the course coordinators seeks input from the Departmental Board during the planning and monitoring of a course and may set up a course committee during decisive planning phases if appropriate. Students are consulted informally in practical classes, after lectures and at social occasions and formally by means of the student surveys and the Departmental Board at which student representatives of every course are invited. It is Departmental policy that student opinion about every course is surveyed, though not necessarily every year, and we generally use the questionnaires designed by the Centre for Teaching and Learning. The results of surveys are made available to the course co-ordinator and the Head of Department and individual comments about particular teachers are made available to that teacher. Course co-ordinators have the responsibility to report to the Departmental Board significant student concerns and to propose solutions where appropriate and to report on the implementation and the result of such action.
Each of the Department's courses utilizes a variety of methods of assessment consistent with the goals of the course. In most cases students receive feedback at various points within the course. The nature and quantitative importance of the assessment in the final course mark are specified in the Course Guide. The main methods of assessment used in the Department and the general Departmental guidelines for each are as follows:
o Essays: The length, format, subject matter, deadline for submission, qualities which examiner's seek, contribution to final course mark and time at which the results will be available are all documented in the appropriate course guide.
o Practical reports: As above.
o Small group assessments: In some courses students are assessed on their contribution to small group activities.
o Quizzes: Multiple true-false questions and short answer questions are also provided in some courses, sometimes for feedback purposes and sometimes for in-course assessment.
Semester and end-of-course examinations
The form of examination is determined by the Department and the Examination Board for the Degree and guidelines are issued by the University and the Academic Board. The Department, through the course coordinator, ensures that the various guidelines are followed.
o The form of examinations is specified in student handouts which accompany every course and appropriate examples are included.
o Because of the large student numbers in our 2nd year and elementary courses, we make considerable use of multiple true/false questions and short answer questions.
o In 3rd year and advanced courses long essays are the more usual method of assessment. It is Departmental policy that no examination is entirely multiple choice and that sample questions of appropriate standard are available to students.
o In most cases past examination papers are available, with the exception that past multiple choice examinations are not revealed.
o A large group of multiple choice exam questions is maintained by the Department, along with appropriate statistical data about the reliability of each question which emerges from the marks of previous examinations.
o Individual lecturers generally set the questions relevant to their contribution to the course and it is the course co-ordinator's responsibility to monitor all questions and ensure they meet appropriate standards of knowledge and comprehensibility and that the overall balance of the examination matches the standard of the course.
Distribution of teaching
All academic members of staff and many others contribute to the teaching program. Course co- ordinators have responsibility to choose who will teach in their courses and the general timetable. The implementation of the timetabling is done by our Professional Officer concerned with teaching. By negotiation, individual staff can often choose the type and amount of teaching they do. Where necessary the Head of Department and the Departmental Board will resolve conflicts. The amount and distribution of every member of staff's teaching is tabled at a Departmental Board early in the year so that discussion of the balance of loading can occur. It is University and Departmental policy that productive research activity can offset teaching load to some extent. Equally, staff who are relatively inactive in research are expected to carry a heavier teaching and administrative load. The Departmental Annual Report lists both teaching loads and research activity, so the balance between these is a matter of public record.
Over a number of years the Department has moved to a smaller number of Associate Lecturers and a larger number of Lecturers and above. This has occurred largely through outside changes (such as promotion of long standing Associate Lecturers to Lecturer). It is Departmental policy to make larger use of postgraduate and research staff to assist with teaching and we have increased the allocation of our budget used for this purpose. Such staff are encouraged to seek assistance in developing teaching skills as a part of their training. For the foreseeable future, academic positions will be filled at the Lecturer and above level and the individuals with a mixture of teaching and research skills will be sought.
Changes in teaching practice to achieve objectives
We identify the following general changes to our teaching programs which we believe will improve the quality of our teaching.
o To be able to offer appropriate Physiology courses to all qualified students in the Faculty of Science who wish to include Physiology as part of a Science Degree. At present, the Department teaches Physiology to both 2nd and 3rd year students within the BMedSc course, but Faculty of Science regulations do not permit us to offer a Physiology 3 course as a major for students within the BSc degree. The only Physiology course available to students enrolled in the BSc degree is the course Physiology 2 (Auxiliary), which is a terminating 2nd year course. It is clear there is a demand for a 3rd year course in Physiology, as demonstrated by surveys of 2nd year students and by the fact that applications for the BMedSc degree greatly exceed the quota for that degree. The Department particularly wishes to cater for those BSc students who want to do Physiology 3 in combination with courses outside the BMedSc degree (e.g., Psychology or Computer Science), as well as for those who fail to gain entry to the BMedSc, but who wish to do Physiology to qualify for entry into postgraduate courses (e.g., Nutrition and Dietetics or Chiropractic). The Department will propose these changes in regulations to the Faculty of Science in 1994.
o A move to smaller groups for some fraction of our teaching and a move towards student- initiated enquiry for more advanced teaching. Thus most of our advanced (3rd year courses) include reading and discussion of individual scientific papers by students in small groups. In our elementary (2nd year courses) some fraction of the practical time is now given over to small group discussion of experimental results or difficult theoretical issues.
o The gradual introduction of more sophisticated computer learning packages. This will eventually reduce some conventional teaching and allow for a moderate increase in small group teaching and problem solving rather than information transfer.
o To reduce delays in marking and return of students' work. Staff are asked to return written work as rapidly as possible to students and a date is normally indicated. Course co- ordinators are asked to monitor performance and report to the Departmental Board.
o To accept more research students. The Departmental profile is currently very strong in research and many members of staff feel they could accept and teach a larger number of research students (Honours and PhD) with their current facilities and funding arrangements. We therefore plan a limited increase in these numbers. At present the number of these students is limited by recruitment and funding. The Department actively recruits BMedSc(Hons), BSc(Hons) and BSc(Med)(Hons) students through a lunchtime meeting in which the projects on offer are described. Individual members of staff also attract students through the style of their teaching in the 3rd year courses. In 1994 some applicants for the Honours program had to be turned down because of a shortage of research funding. In future the defined funding through the departments will have a larger, identified component for research students, which will marginally reduce the cost to a laboratory of taking on a student. The Department is active in the University in campaigning for a more realistic distribution of Australian Postgraduate Research Award (APRA) funds. At present the Faculty of Medicine does not receive the number of APRAs which its research activity and quality of students would suggest.
o Actively looking for other educational opportunities: The Department encourages contributions to its courses which alert students to career opportunities: e.g., visits to industrial research laboratories, and contributions from hospital laboratory and research staff.
Monitoring of teaching.
The main mechanism for monitoring and responding to teaching activities is through our weekly Departmental Meetings. All academic members of staff attend and course co-ordinators and relevant teaching staff report on any relevant teaching activities and particularly on any problems that arise. At these meetings problems are discussed and strategies for their solutions are formulated. The Department follows the general procedures listed in the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Science Quality Assessment Procedures. Below are listed the Departmental procedures which are common to all our courses
o Course co-ordinators have primary responsibility for monitoring their courses and reporting to the Departmental Meetings, the Departmental Board and the Head of Department.
o The Department monitors the number and qualifications of students applying for and entering each course.
o The Department monitors student performance in earlier courses as an indication of student quality. Any evidence that numbers of student applications was falling or that the quality of students was falling would be reported to a Departmental Meeting and appropriate responses instigated.
o The success rate and mark distribution are monitored as indications of course success. Course coordinators report to the Departmental Meeting following the Examiners' Board Meeting and issues of concern are identified and appropriate policies instituted.
o Student opinion of all courses is actively sought at many informal occasions.
o Student opinion is formally sought by means of student surveys which occur at not less than 2 year intervals.
o The Departmental Board meets every semester and student representatives from every course are invited by letter and asked to bring student feedback of any kind to the meeting. Minutes of this meeting are kept and students can determine at a subsequent meeting whether appropriate action has occurred.
o A major review of student destinations following graduation is nearing completion. The questionnaire has been distributed to all students who graduated with a major in Physiology over the last 5 years. This review covers current employment details and seeks the graduate's opinion of the vocational utility of their training in Physiology. It is anticipated that the results of this review will have important implications for course design and teaching strategy in the future. The results of this survey will appear in the 1993 Annual Report of the Department.
o For the new BMedSc degree a register of students is being maintained which will make soliciting of information and feedback from our graduates simpler in the future.
o In the event that the teaching of a member of staff is identified as below standard by the course coordinators or by student feedback, the course coordinator will recommend improvements to the member of staff. Any perceived weaknesses will be discussed at the Professional Development Review and a plan for improvement devised. For untenured staff the plan would be part of the requirements for tenure. New lecturers are encouraged to attend the course run by the Centre for Teaching and Learning.
o Academic staff are listed in the Departmental Activity Report, together with all teaching and related administrative activities that they perform each year.
o All the courses of the Department were reviewed by the External Review body and their recommendations have been incorporated into current practise (P7-10, Review Committee Report, 1991).
o All the courses contributing to the MB BS degree were reviewed by the AMC in 1993. The review board recommended accreditation of the course for the maximum period of 10 years.
o Two members of the Department have been awarded Excellence in Teaching Awards by the University. One of these has an Award for Achievement in Education from the Australasian and New Zealand Association for Medical Education and is a consultant to the Australian Government Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching.
Specific comments on individual courses
At present, the Department teaches four courses (listed below) in the first three years of the six-year undergraduate medical program. The Department has been the most successful in the Faculty over the years in attracting students who undertake a year of research for the intercalated BSc(Med)(Hons) degree.
The courses are designed to meet the objectives of the current undergraduate medical program and are designed to provide comprehensive, clear and topical accounts of physiological principles on which students can later develop an understanding of clinical science. Clinical relevance is stressed when appropriate. The theoretical material is supported by practical classes which are designed to encourage the development of both clinical and laboratory skills: observation, measurement, the analysis, interpretation and display of data and some elements of problem- solving.
The Department is introducing appropriate computer-aided learning as suitable programs become available. Relevant video and other demonstrations to small groups are also used.
Medicine 1 Introductory Cell Biology: The program is designed to introduce aspects of modern cell and molecular biology. The Department of Physiology co-ordinates the course to which the Departments of Pharmacology, Infectious Diseases and Biochemistry contribute. It is taught in lectures and practical sessions.
Medicine 2 Physiology: The course represents the Department's major contribution to the medical program and it covers all aspects of human physiology, particularly from a perspective of body systems, relevant to health and ill-health. It is taught in lectures, practical classes and some discussions which deal with theoretical issues arising from practical sessions. Aspects from the subcellular to the integrated functioning of the whole body are considered. The course is generally well received by students.
Medicine 3 Clinical Physiology with Pharmacology: The course, to which members of the Department of Physiology, Pharmacology and Medicine contribute is designed to introduce students to the physiological disturbances which underlie various important and common conditions affecting most systems of the body. It is taught in lectures and is well received by students who (particular) ly? comment on its relevance.
Medicine 3 Neuroscience: The Department was responsible for developing and supervising the integrated Neuroscience course, which attracted very favourable comment from the Australian Medical Council's review team. Major contributing departments include Physiology and Anatomy & Histology, with assistance from the Departments of Pharmacology, Medicine, Psychiatry and Surgery. The course includes lectures, practical sessions based on clinical neurological tests, tutorials and work sessions in neuroanatomy, video and other interactive demonstrations and interactive computer-based learning. The course is regularly very positively reviewed by students in questionnaires.
BSc(Med)(Hons): The Department encourages and provides opportunities for motivated and well-qualified students to undertake a year of research in the laboratory of a member of staff. The students are required to complete a research project under supervision, and to attend and contribute to a series of seminars. They complete a thesis which is marked by three examiners, some occasionally external to the Department and present two research seminars to the Department and interested others. The quality of the theses and seminar presentations overall has been of the highest level for students at their stage of development, as attested by external examiners.
Graduate Medical Program: In 1997, the Faculty will implement a four-year graduate medical program, based on the principles of integration, problem-orientation, early clinical relevance, self-direction, adult learning and co-operative small group activities. The Department is responding to the challenge by contributing to a large number of the planning teams and groups, some acting as co-ordinators. One member of the department has been seconded full-time to the Faculty Office (as Associate Dean, Curriculum Development) to plan the new program. Staff are actively involved in planning integrated courses and developing appropriate problem-based learning activities.
Some staff of the Department will act as problem-based tutors. The Department will also contribute its resources and facilities to ensure that relevant and appropriate clinical and laboratory skills are learnt thoroughly so that when students encounter patients they will be sensitive and technically competent. It will also contribute to the development of new methods of assessment, with an emphasis on assessment for feedback and the development of the skills of self-assessment.
The Department will encourage the fullest co-operation with the newly established Education Unit within the Faculty of Medicine, to seek assistance with course planning, to develop the teaching skills of all staff, and to collaborate on educational research projects. Members of the Department are actively involved in the development of the Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admission Test.
At present, the quota for enrolments in the BMedSc degree is 100. In 1993 and 1994, the demand for entry into the BMedSc degree greatly exceeded the quota, with the result that large numbers (approximately 50 and 70 in 1993 and 1994, respectively) of students who had passed all the qualifying courses for entry to the degree were not offered places. The Department of Physiology would wish to see the quota increase to a level that would both produce an appropriate number of graduates, bearing in mind their career and employment prospects, and which would avoid the current situation where many well-qualified students are turned away. Since there are many possible career paths for BMedSc graduates, such as further vocational studies in medicine, nutrition and dietetics, and chiropractic, as well as opportunities for research positions in hospitals, universities and other institutions, there is scope for increasing substantially the number of BMedSc graduates above the present target level of 100 per year. We therefore plan, in co-operation with the other departments teaching the degree, to seek ways in which the quota for entry into the degree can be increased.
Human Life Sciences 2: This course is the major 28-unit core course within the second year of the BMedSc degree. It is a highly integrated course on the structure and function of the human body, and is jointly taught by the Departments of Physiology, Anatomy & Histology, and Pathology, with the Department of Physiology contributing 50% of the total teaching. The integrative approach in teaching this course is highly innovative, and was developed after extensive and detailed discussions that were initiated by the Department of Physiology. A variety of different assessment procedures are used (short answer questions, multiple-choice questions, essays, practical reports, and practical exams). Students are also given feedback on their progress by means of quizzes, comments on written work, and interviews with teachers when requested. Students are asked to evaluate the course and individual lecturers every year, and these evaluations are so arranged to ensure that virtually all students take part. The course has proved to be highly successful, as judged by both teacher and student evaluations. In the future it is planned to develop this course by further improvements in the degree of integration between the three departments teaching the course, and by introducing the latest methods in computer-based teaching. Wherever possible, we shall endeavour to put as much emphasis as possible on small-group teaching, and to promote and encourage self-directed learning by students.
Human Life Sciences 3: This is a core course for the 3rd year of the BMedSc. It concerns the molecular and cellular phenomena that underlie general body functions and development, and is taught principally by the Department of Physiology, with a small contribution from the Department of Anatomy & Histology. Increasing emphsis is being placed on problem solving in this course.
Neuroscience 3: This is an option taught in first semester of 3rd year, mainly by the Department of Physiology and the Department of Anatomy & Histology.
Advanced Neuroscience 3: This is another option, taught in second semester, and which requires completion of the Neuroscience 3 course.
Cardiovascular 3: This is another 2nd semester option in 3rd year. It is taught wholly be the Department of Physiology and can be taken with any other 3rd year course. As with the other options, an emphasis is placed on developing students' presentation skills and critical evaluation of their own and others' research data.
This course was moved from 2nd to 3rd year a few years ago and considerable effort is continually required to ensure that it adresses the needs of students at that level and runs in sequence with a course offered by Biological Sciences.
Physiology 2 Auxiliary
Student numbers for this course have increased (to 170 students in 1994, cf. 120 in 1993 and 90 in 1992) and there is considerable demand for students to continue to 3rd year Physiology courses. Our response to this situation is given in the Plans section above.
The Department supports the plan of the Faculty of Dentistry to introduce a double degree structure. The current BMedSc 2nd year course would supply a sound basis for the clinically relevant medical/dental medicine and pathology for the needs of a dentist in the 20th century. Specific topics exclusively relevant to Dentistry would be taught in the 3rd year. An advantage of this proposal is that it would allow small numbers of good students unsuited to Dental practice to enter the BMedSc in the 3rd year.
Currently the dental students and science students taking Physiology 2 (Auxiliary) share a lecture course. The students have somewhat different backgrounds and different future interest, so this is not an optimal arrangement. Given more resources we would separate these two courses.
Students enter the Honours Course through the Faculty of Medicine (BSc(Med)(Hons)), Faculty of Science (BMedSc(Hons), BSc(Hons), GradDipSci), or Faculty of Dentistry (BScDent(Hons)) and must fulfil requirements for admission of the relevant faculty. In addition, the Department only admits candidates if they have a strong undergraduate record, have a potential Honours supervisor, and candidates in the Faculty of Science must have completed courses relevant to the proposed project. The Department also takes into account the ability of staff to adequately supervise the proposed load of research students in their laboratory and the external research funds available to the laboratory in support of the project.
The supervision of individual research projects is left to the supervisor, but the Honours program has formalized a number of benchmarks during the year to ensure that progress in the research program is on schedule and that students are mastering the practicalities of scientific writing and presentations so that they are able to complete their thesis and Departmental seminar that make up the major form of assessment in this program. There are provisions for feedback on the candidate's progress in association with each of these benchmarks.
The use of the thesis as the major form of assessment is a long-established procedure in this Department, but the procedures for assessment have been clarified with guidelines for supervisors and examiners approved by the Department. These include a requirement for a minimum of three examiners to assess each thesis, provide written reports to the Departmental Board of Examiners, and for the candidates along with a statement of any corrections to the thesis that are required. One of the examiners is frequently from outside the Department. The assessment of Honours theses is a major task for the staff, but one which retains one of the highest priorities, consistent with the importance of this program to the students and the Department alike.
There are currently 26 PhD scholars in the Department (both full- and part-time). Their thesis is written as a consequence of full-time research in the laboratory of a member of the academic staff. The quality of PhD theses within the Department is guaranteed by the expectation that research papers resulting from thesis work should be published in high-ranking journals in the physiological or biomedical sciences.
PhD Scholars in the Department of Physiology are assisted in their research programmes towards the submission of a thesis in the minimum time of 3 years by the following procedures:
o The research topic, laboratory facilities and supervisory arrangements are reviewed at the beginning of the three-year period by the post-graduate co-ordinator.
o The scholar must present a seminar on the results of his/her first six months to all academics of the Department. At this time there is a general discussion concerning the progress of the research and whether or not new directions or strategies should be developed.
o The week following the public seminar the scholar discusses in private his/her own progress with the postgraduate committee, including the postgraduate co-ordinator and two other professors in the Department. Any supervisory difficulties are canvassed at this stage, together with the laboratory support for the scholar.
o At the end of the year the scholar's progress is again reviewed by the postgraduate committee of the Department.
o It is expected that the scholar should present the results of each of his/her three year's research to an Annual Meeting of a suitable scientific society: e.g., the Australian Physiological and Pharmacological Society, Australian Neuroscience Society, Australian Society for Medical Research, Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Endocrine Society of Australia, or a Genome Conference. If this does not occur the scholar must present a research seminar to the Department's academics.
o In the second and third year the PhD scholar is interviewed by the postgraduate committee of the Department to again assess progress and any difficulties in achieving the aim of completing a successful PhD in three years.
It is Departmental policy that all members of academic staff should engage in research or scholarly activity in an area related to physiology or medicine or to the teaching of these subjects. It is, however, accepted that there may on occasion be academic staff whose research activity may be minimal for a variety of reasons and this is accepted provided these staff undertake a greater than average teaching and administrative load. Once staff are appointed they are free to choose their own area of research within this broad area. In practice, most of the research within the Department is in a much more restricted area which embraces the neurosciences and the cardiovascular, endocrine and epithelial systems. Within these areas the Department is keen to have expertise in a range of approaches to these topics, including integrative, cellular and molecular methods. Current thinking within the Department is that the research output of the Department and any new members is likely to be maximized if new appointments are within these general areas. It is felt that the need to lecture at an elementary level across the full range of physiology can be met by expecting new and existing staff to be prepared to lecture outside their area of research expertise.
Departmental support for research has changed substantially over recent years towards a system in which research support depends largely on research activity rather than a pro rata allocation to each academic. The principle means of research support is outside grants and all members of staff are expected to support their research by applying for outside grants. University and Departmental mechanisms for allocating research support funds are as follows.
o Peer-reviewed grants are allocated infrastructure support by DEET. The University distributes 2/3 of this money to Faculties on the basis of a University formula. The Faculty distributes the money to Departments on the basis of grant funding alone. Currently (1993) the Department distributes half of this money directly to the grant-holder to spend on infra-structure and the remainder is distributed by the Department to support more general Departmental infrastructure.
o That fraction of the budget (currently 1%) which is distributed to Faculties on the basis of research activity is distributed directly to academic members of staff on the basis of the Faculty of Medicine formula.
o Each member of staff receives an allocation for him/herself and for research students (Honours and PhD) in their laboratory. Allocation will cease after 3 years for full time PhD students (and pro rata for part-time students) as a mechanism to encourage early completion.
From these funds and outside grants members of staff support all their research activities including telephone, photocopying etc.
Because funding depends so much on the ability to obtain competitive grants, the Department makes special provision for new members of staff and to a lesser extent for members of staff who have a (presumed temporary) shortfall of research funds. Such cases are considered by the Head of Department who consults senior members of the Department as appropriate.
Mechanisms for monitoring and improving the quality of research
The Department has for some years monitored individual and Departmental research activity using a range of qualitative and quantitative indicators. We also regularly compare the Departmental research activity with other Departments in the Faculty of Medicine and with key departments and institutions nationally. The Departmental research activity is in the top rank of relevant Australian institutes. Details of these procedures and the feedback mechanisms whereby this information is used to improve research quality are detailed below.
o The Departmental ethos and the leadership provided by the most
research-active members of the Department is a key influence.
o The Faculty of Medicine research activity index, into which this department had a large input, depends most heavily on published papers with a large weight given to the Citation Impact of the journal in which the paper was published. This is widely felt to be the best currently available index of quality of research publication. Because quality is explicitly part of Departmental and individual funding, we believe this will encourage staff to maximize quality rather than quantity. As noted above, individual research funding depends in part on this indicator.
o The influence of quality of research in obtaining grant funding and in promotion is a potent influence for improving quality.
o The Annual Report of the Department has been published annually since 1989 (and before that 5- yearly, from 1979) and lists the research activity, publications, invited lectures, prizes and related research activities (editorial work for scholarly journals, organization of conferences, positions in national and international scientific societies, membership of national scientific review committees, etc) for every member of staff. Thus a very broad indicator of scientific activity is available for every member of staff on a year by year basis.
o The Department's Annual Report includes graphs of a number of key variables as an aid to quantitative assessment of Departmental research output; e.g., total grant income, number of refereed publications, quality of publications (mean impact factor).
o The Department annually compares its research output (number of refereed papers multiplied by the impact factor of the journal in which they were published) with a number of key institutes in Australia (Walter & Eliza Hall Institute, Howard Florey Institute, Baker Institute, Garvan Institute), equivalent departments and schools at other universities (University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of Queensland, University of New South Wales, John Curtin School of Medical Research). The output is compared on the basis of research income and academic/research staff. Examples of these comparisons were given in the Departmental Submission to the External Review (Section 4.3) and will appear in our 1993 Departmental Activity Report.
o Research space is allocated by the Head of Department after consultation with senior members of staff and reflects both the physical requirements (e.g. equipment, research staff, Honours and PhD students) and quality of research (in which the Faculty of Medicine research activity index would be one quantitative indicator).
o Staff are allowed to take Special Studies leave up to the University limit, provided (i) it is likely to produce improvement in research or teaching performance, (ii) their teaching and research activities are adequately covered in their absence.
o The Department uses its resources to support visits from Australian scientists to give research talks within the Department. Overseas visitors are also invited to give talks whenever the opportunity arises.
o The Department encourages attendance at National and International meetings provided other staff can adequately cover their teaching and research supervision activities in their absence.
o The Department encourages research-only staff and foreign visitors who contribute to the research activities of the Department.
PROFESSIONAL OR FACULTY/UNIVERSITY/COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES
All members of staff are encouraged to develop appropriate activities in the wider academic area. All such activities are recorded in the Annual Departmental Report. Of particular importance are the following activities which clearly enhance our general, teaching, or research objectives.
o The Department has a reputation for providing holders of senior positions within the University (a previous Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the present Dean and Sub-dean of Medicine). A previous member of the Department is Pro-Vice Chancellor at another major Australian university.
o Several members of the Department have been Deputy Chairs of the Academic Board.
o The Department has two members of the Australian Academy of Science and numerous members are officials in national and international scientific societies.
o The Department is particularly keen to host scientific meetings, which are an effective means of raising the research profile of the Department nationally and internationally, and allows limited use of its general staff to support such activities.
o Many staff are invited to give talks at schools to advise students about University degree choices. Such invitations are frequently repeated annually, indicating the value of this form of communication between Universities and Schools.
o Academic staff are frequently invited to give research talks. All such invitations are recorded in the Annual Departmental Report.
o Members of the department regularly review competitive research grants and papers for publication in scientific journals.
o Several members of the Department have acted on bodies reviewing other Departments or Faculties nationally and internationally.
o Two members of the Department are currently involved in developing the Graduate Australian Medical School Admission Test (GAMSAT).
o Many members of the Department have had their work featured in the media.
1993 PHYSIOLOGY REPORT