Dr Alison Curnow

Senior Fellow SFHEA

Engaging students with research

Name Dr Alison Curnow



Senior Lecturer in Cell and Molecular Biology

College University of Exeter Medical School

Engaging students with research-inspired learning

Dr Alison Curnow is Programme Lead for the MSc in Environment and Human Health and also runs Special Study Units for medical students here at Exeter. Her personal and academic work includes photobiological and oncological related research. “My own personal research concentrates on photodynamic therapy, which is a light activated drug that’s used to treat cancer… I conduct clinical research in the hospital but I also complete experimental research in the laboratory, and I like to work at that translational cutting edge.” As an experienced educator, Alison explains; “Sometimes I don’t really know when I’m doing teaching or when I’m doing research, they flow one into the other and back again and I see multiple opportunities in all aspects of my role.”

Alison explains how it’s important, as an academic, to have a strong research background in order to inspire students. "[Having a research background] gives you fidelity and authenticity when you’re actually talking to students, both when you’re trying to deliver content, expertise and knowledge, but also when you’re trying to teach research skills… you can give many anecdotes from your own research practice to actually convey the joys of doing research.”

Innovative assessment to develop employability

Alison also works with developing learning and assessment skills within the Medical School. “I chair the committee that’s responsible for research and scholarship for the medical students… we’re responsible for delivering all parts of the curriculum in this domain and also its assessment. It’s actually quite challenging because we need to seamlessly integrate all these skills; communication, research and design throughout the curriculum.”

Alison has developed innovative forms of research-led learning and assessment, such as asking her students to write in the style of the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Developing these types of written communication skills helps prepare medical students for their future professional careers. With postgraduate students, Alison encourages them to think about how to “persuade somebody to actually give you the money and the resources you need to actually undertake a study… and that’s a transferable skill that we all need in our working lives – to be able to convince people to enable us to change things… we’d like to think that all our students would leave us and be able to be initiators of change.” She recognises the importance of employability, stating that “by having transferable skills, you make yourself more employable. And unless you’ve actually got a CV that’s rich of actual opportunities and experiences, you can seem very theoretical."

Aim 3: Research-inspired, inquiry-led learning
To extend the opportunities for students to learn in innovative ways through their own research and inquiry

Engaging students with research

“I think when you have research-inspired teaching, you’re actually delivering at the cutting edge.”


“…employability is becoming more and more important, both at the undergraduate and the postgraduate level.”

Innovative forms of assessment

“We actually want our students to really engage with their assessments, so that they get the maximum learning out of them.”