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New report: The research year works – but changes could be made

The research year works well for the students and as a basis for a PhD degree programme. But it can perhaps be replaced by an optional semester, if it becomes necessary to change priorities, suggests CESU in a new report which uncovers the benefits that the students themselves get from taking a research year at Health.

The students who take a research year acquire good and relevant academic, personal and communicative competences, and the research year works well in its present form.
But an optional semester with 30 ECTS where it is e.g. possible to choose to immerse oneself in a research project could possibly be an option at medicine, if it is in future necessary to adjust the opportunity for applying to take a research year.    

This is one of the recommendations in a new report "The Research Year as a Career Platform" that has been published by the Centre for Health Sciences Education (CESU) at Aarhus University.

The report is the result of a year’s work during which the researchers from CESU have contacted all the students at Health who took a research year during the period 2011-2014. Since 2010, the scheme has experienced an explosive growth among medical students, so that today up to a third of a year group enrols.

Points to three possible new paths

The question now is whether it will be necessary to reprioritise the scheme in the wake of the study progress reform:

"That’s a question the report cannot answer, of course, but in addition to the recommendation to maintain the research year in its current form, one of our recommendations to the graduate school who have ordered the report is the optional semester," says Associate Professor, PhD Mette Krogh Christensen from CESU. She has produced the report together with research assistant Thea Tegtmejer.

"For one thing, we are familiar with optional semester schemes from other universities, where they appear to work well, and for another, they also include all the students and maintain the close, socialising contact between students and research environment, which our report shows is the unique strength of the research year today."

The vast majority of students in the survey stated that they were recognised for their academic and collegial contribution to the research environment that they participated in. This indicates that the research environments create excellent conditions for student learning, as Mette Krogh Christensen puts it.

The report also points to two other possible paths if an adjustment of the scheme becomes necessary. One path is to cut down on the number of research year students – at present somewhere between a third and a quarter of a year group of medical students choose to take a research year.
The other path is to spread the research year out over several semesters and to make it a qualifying course with credit transfer or an ECTS allocation.

Strong desire for immersion and a time out 

In its present form the research year is both a good recruitment platform for the PhD degree programme and a relevant career platform for the students, according to the report.
The single biggest reason for applying turned out to be the students’ desire for the “Possibility of immersion in an independent project”, which together with “A wish to carry out research” top the report’s motivational factors, closely followed by “A need for / wish for a break in the studies” and “The possibility of qualifying for later employment as a physician”.

The report’s authors emphasise that the career perspective is a significant parameter in that it is linked to the requirement for research experience that can be met on the career ladder:

"Up to half of the research year applications may therefore be strategic and have to do with competitiveness and achieving sufficient experience and opportunities for immersion prior to choosing your career," says Mette Krogh Christensen.

Finally she points out that the research year today helps to prevent money being wasted on expensive PhD programmes for some of the students who would otherwise first discover that a research career is not right for them later on in the process.



  • A research year costs DKK 120,000, which must either be provided by the unit to which the student is affiliated during the period, the Central Denmark Region, private/state funds or via the graduate school.
  • A research year is only an option at the Department of Medicine and the Department of Odontology.
  • During the past year, 149 research year students have been enrolled at Health. 
  • Earlier this year, another study carried out by HE PhD Administration showed that 52 per cent of the students become primary author of at least one international scientific article within the first three and a half years after the start of the research year.
  • The same study showed that 13 per cent of the research year students had began a PhD degree programme three and a half years after having embarked on the research year. After six years the figure is 48 per cent.


Further information:

Associate Professor, PhD Mette Krogh Christensen
Centre for Health Sciences Education (CESU)
Tel.: (+45) 8620 5227