In 1993 a survey was conducted to determine the postgraduate destination of former Physiology students. This had three objectives:
* To determine if the courses provided by the Department were meeting the vocational needs of our students.
* To determine the employment prospects and employment profile of our former students.
* To solicit comments regarding course structure and teaching effectiveness from former students having a number of years post-graduation work experience.
Initial enquires were made to the Careers and Appointments Service to determine if an appropriate data-base was already available. While the Service was very helpful, their data for Physiology students was sparse, owing principally to a generally low questionnaire return rate. Furthermore, it was thought that their practice of surveying students only within the first year following graduation would be unlikely to provide the information sought in our review. Consequently, a short, one page, questionnaire was designed covering the following points:
* Current situation: Emplyed, full- or part-time; studying, full- or part-time, unemployed.
* Whether the current situation was the preferred situation, with a rating of
1 (= not at all) to 6 (= very much).
* Current Salary level, in $10,000 bands.
* Brief job/study history
* Vocational usefulness of Physiology training, with a rating of 1 (= not at all) to 6 (= very much)
* A request for any further comments that may be of use to the Department in evaluating current courses and designing current courses.
The last known address of 190 former students principally covering the years 1988 to 1992 was obtained from Student Records and the questionnaire, a personalized and signed covering letter and a stamped return-addressed envelope was mailed out to each former student.
The overall response rate was 56%, with a substantial number of returns coming from later years. All but 4 of the returns have come from those who completed Physiology 3 in the years 1988-92. The breakdown of returns by year of completion was:
1992 1991 1990 1989 1988+ Not stated
27 21 20 14 13 12
This was a gratifyingly high return rate, given the expected problems of tracing former students who had completed their studies up to 5 or 6 years previously. The good response rate may also have resulted from the short and relatively unstructured nature of the questionnaire. A number of the returns were, however, incomplete, which may have resulted from the unstructured nature of the questionnaire.
Employment and further study
As a group, more than half of the respondents were in full time employment, with just under one-third engaged in further full-time study (see pie chart below). Of the16% of respondents who were employed part-time, 75% were engaged in further study. Only one respondent was unemployed and seeking work. Two respondents were unemployed and not seeking work, with both of these respondents indicating that they were undertaking full-time domestic responsibilities. The proprtion engaged in work or study varied as a function of the year in which they had completed Physiology 3. Only one-third of respondents who completed their studies in 1992 were engaged in full-time work, but nearly half of those completing in 1992 were in full-time study (see histogram below). In contrast, about two-thirds of all respondents who had completed Physiology in 1991 or earlier were in full-time employment and only about a further 20% were in full-time study. These data would suggest that the majority of our former students do not enter the work-place immediately upon completing Physiology, but go on to further study.
Pie chart: The current employment/study situation of all respondents, shown as a percentage of the whole group.
Histogram: Current employment/study situation by year of completion. ft, full-time work; fs, full-time study; pts, part-time work with study; pt, part- time work; un, unemployed not seeking work; us, unemployed seeking work.
The greater majority (83%) of the respondents found work or have continued to study in biomedical disciplines (see list in table below) and rate a very high level of satisfaction with their situation: the average score being 5.1 out of 6. As a group, these respondents also rated the vocational usefulness of their Physiology course highly (4.4). There was a range of about 20 occupations amongst the respondents, of which 15 were classified as biomedical. Courses for which Physiology is a prerequisite receive a large fraction of our students: in particular Chiropractic and Dietetics. Chiropractors were universally the most satisfied with their jobs, rating, 6 out of 6. As professionals (table below) and students (subsequent table) Chiropractors also gave Physiology a higher than average rating for vocational usefulness (4.6). A large percentage of respondents found work as research assistants in both hospital and research laboratory environments (first table). These Respondents also gave high rating for job satisfaction (4.5) and the vocational usefulness of their Physiology training (4.3). Dietitians and students of dietetics were the third largest group of respondents and although they had very high job satisfaction ratings (5 and 5.8, respectively), gave slightly lower ratings for vocational usefulness (4.2). This was also reflected in many of the comments included in the replies, particularly where the practical components of the course were concerned.
Occupations of respondents engaged in full- or part-time employment. The job satisfaction and vocational usefulness ratings are the averages for each profession on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 6 (highest).
Job No. satisfaction use
Chiropractor 11 6 4.6
Research assistant 11 4.5 4.3
Dietitian 9 5 4.2
Regulatory affairs 6 4.5 4.5
Research fellow 2 6 4
Lecturer (Biol. Sci.) 1 5 5
Nurse 1 6 5
Physiotherapist 1 6 6
Radiographer 1 5 5
Food technician 1 6
Lab technician 1 4 2
Editor (medical) 1 5 4
Biochemist 1 3 2
Medical sales rep. 1 1 1
Technical officer 1 3 1
Teacher 5 5.2 3.6
Chemist 1 5 1
Public servant 1 4 4
Finance 1 5 3
Other 5 2.6 3
Discipline of study of those engaged in full- or part-time studies
Discipline No. satisfaction use
Chiropractic 5 5.5 4.6
Dietetics 5 5.8 4.2
Medicine 6 5.5 4.5
Physiology 4 5.5 5.3
Physiotherapy 2 5.5 4.5
Pharmacology 3 4.7 4.7
Biochemistry 1 4.0 6.0
Biology 1 6.0 4.0
Engineering 1 4.0 2.0
Law 1 6.0 3.0
Teaching 1 6.0 1.0
Those proceeding on to full-time or part-time study in biomedical disciplines gave a much higher than average rating for vocational usefulness (average 4.7). The high job satisfaction rating (average 5.5) indicated that this was a very highly motivated group of students. About two-thirds of those employed part-time while studying were pursuing postgraduate degrees (Masters or Doctorate), with the remainder pursuing undergraduate or Diploma courses. A surprising number of respondents pursuing a second undergraduate degree, particularly in Medicine (6) and Physiotherapy (2), had not indicated that they were working part-time.
For those respondents in full-time work, the reported salary levels increased steadily with the number of years since completion (see figure below). Although reported salary was only approximated to $10,000 bands, with the mid-point of each band used for statistical purposes, respondents who had completed in 1992 and were in full-time employment had an average salary of $29,444. This distribution was skewed, with a median salary of $35,000. It is notable that both the average and the median salary was significantly higher than the median overall starting salary for BSc graduates in general of $26,000 and graduates of Biological Sciences as a group ($26,000). This starting salary level was surpassed only by Medical/Dental graduates (Careers and Appointment Service, 1993). The average salary of respondents climbed to $39,000 for the group who completed in 1988 or later. In this group the distribution was particularly skewed, showing a maximum salary of $65,000. Of the 1989 and pre-1988 groups, a significant number of respondents declined to indicate their salary range. This suggests that our salary estimates for this group may represent something of an underestimate.
In the final part of the survey, respondents were asked to provide further constructive comments or criticisms of their time associated with the Department. Although it is difficult to provide a systematic account of these responses, a number of important themes can be identified. A total of 19 respondents reported enjoying the course with many of these referring to the course as being excellent and 'the best course of their undergraduate career'. The move to small group teaching and evaluation of scientific papers in student seminars were singled out by 13 respondents as the most valuable educational and vocational aspects of the course. There appeared to be a need for more career counselling, as many students were unaware of the job and research opportunities that might follow on from the course.
There were two areas which attracted some criticism. At least ten respondents felt that there was a need for a more broadly-based course or the provision of more specialist options from which to choose at more advanced levels. In many cases a body systems and/or applied clinical approach to teaching was highlighted as a requirement for greater vocational relevance. A number of respondents identified the need to better integrate the practical components of the couse with the lectures. Many of these particular criticisms have subsequently been addressed by the Department since the introduction of the Bachelor of Medical Science, which serves as a more integrated course than Physiology 2 and 3.
Average salary of respondents (solid line) and the salary range (broken line), shown for each year of completion.
Summary of findings of survey
* Based on the number and distributions of returns it is likely that the results of this survey represent a reasonable assessment of the Graduate destinations of those completing Physiology 3 at least over the past 5 or 6 years.
* Most of our former students were found to be employed or engaged in further study in biomedical disciplines. The majority of respondents entered chiropractic or dietetic courses on completing Physiology or found positions as research assistants in hospital or research laboratories. In each case the vocational usefulness of their Physiology training was rated highly. About two- thirds enjoyed full-time employment by the second year following completion, suggesting that employment prospects of students completing Physiology 3 was good.
* The starting salary levels of graduates completing Physiology 3 was higher than the median starting salary for Biological Sciences and other BSc graduates as a whole.
* The move towards smaller teaching groups and assessment of scientific papers in student seminar groups was identified as particularly valuable vocational aspects of the course. The need to provide a broader course in the third year of the Degree and to better integrate the practical components was also indicated.