Physiology 2019, Aberdeen

For the first time in 20 years, the Physiological Society’s annual meeting returned to Aberdeen, and the ‘granite city’ provided an excellent venue for the event. Of the 18 symposia delivered on 8–10 July 2019, a substantial proportion focused on the teaching of physiology. This education showcase demonstrated the enthusiasm and innovation of the membership for training the next generation of physiologists. The local organising committee of Dr Guy Bewick and Professor Derek Scott succeeded in integrating the education strand with the other focal strands to develop consideration and conversation about how to deliver education and training to an increasingly large and more diverse student population. The teaching-dedicated Otto Hutter Prize Lecture, daily symposia and poster sessions, combined with professional development sessions involving key educational software providers, meant educators were infused with ideas, suggestions, and innovations and provided with the platforms to deliver them!

Across the different symposia, three key themes emerged.

Practical approaches

Several talks and posters focused on ways in which practical teaching can be delivered effectively: an ever-present challenge across the sector! Some focused on technological solutions and the use of online simulations, whereas the renowned Dee Silverthorn (University of Texas) talked in depth about the value of simple plant and invertebrate systems as a means of demonstrating aspects of experimental design. Julia Choate, of Monash University (see left-hand image, below), talked about a different aspect of ‘practical’ delivery: enabling the teaching of large numbers of students effectively, whether in the laboratory or in non-lab environments. At Monash, they have removed lecture theatres entirely, yet deliver an effective physiology curriculum to over 700 students across all years and five BSc degree disciplines. In the lab, as well as in virtual experiments, they employ an inquiry-based, practical approach.

Online strategies

The education symposia also featured talks on approaches to online education. Some considered the positive effect of measuring student engagement on outcomes and the use of learner analytics to support this. Others described the ‘gamification’ of learning activities, considering not only their successes, but the way in which students perceived them. A strong theme emerging from the education presentations was the use of videos to engage students within a ‘pre’ and ‘post’ lab setting, but also as a way of demonstrating procedures and aspects which otherwise would be inaccessible.


The final emerging educational theme related to benchmarking, and the tailoring of physiological curricula to the vast array of learners that need to engage with it. Several talks and posters evidenced the use of benchmarks or supported curricular guidance as a vehicle for validating or designing modules for specific physiology cohorts. There were also examples of curricula that were designed by close consultation between professionals and students to find and maintain a balance and degree of stratification that personalised the education experience for the very different cohorts that engage. A strong move away from one physiological curriculum fits all!

The event was lively throughout and, as an educator, I felt the focus on education and training was superb. The themes that emerged were relevant and informative in terms of the challenges faced in our roles. Indeed, Physiology 2019 left me stimulated, and excited about the new opportunities for in depth collaboration. Furthermore I feel more than equipped to move forward and address the challenges of University education in the 21st century! Thanks to Guy Bewick and Derek Scott for their work in helping achieve this!



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Published: 06 Nov 2019
Category: Meetings update

About the author

Guy Bewick

Dr Guy Bewick is Senior Lecturer in the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition at the University of Aberdeen. A member of The Physiological Society since 1983, he was a Trustee from 2015 to 2019, serving on the Membership and Grants Committee, Nominations Committee and the Governance Review Group. As well as teaching across all year groups, he has been a co-ordinator for several modules and degree programmes within the University of Aberdeen, plus he has served as external examiner at Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities for MSc and Honours programmes. His research focus is on understanding how afferent and efferent nerve terminals adapt to the changing demands of life, primarily in the motor and sensory systems.

Derek Scott

Derek Scott is Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology Education at the University of Aberdeen. He was co-lead of the Education and Teaching Theme of the Physiological Society, and now serves on their Education, Public Engagement and Policy Committee. Derek is a member of the Physiology Expert Panel for the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society of North America. His educational research interests include the use of objective, structured, practical examinations for science students, infographics to communicate scientific concepts, the role of science students in healthcare quality improvement, and working with students as partners in improving science education. He is also keen to support career progression for other teaching-focused staff in medical sciences.

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