PEP stands for Personal Excellence Pathway and it’s essentially a research project that you have to do each year at Manchester. The reason why I’m writing about it today is because I’ve received a good handful of questions about it about the past couple of years so I thought I’d explain what it is in detail. I’ve done 2 PEP projects so far (since I’ve just finished my second year) so I thought I’d also talk about what I researched for my projects.

So…what is PEP? PEP is essentially part of the Manchester programme which allows you to go and pursue you’re own interests to a certain extent and it’s what adds a research element to the curriculum. Each year, what you have to do for PEP changes. In first year, you work in a group to research a particular question and create a poster which you then present. In second year you independently research a question and write a dissertation. In third year, you carry out some actual primary research or a clinical audit.

I often get asked about how much choice you get when it comes to selecting topics to research and to answer this I’ll talk through the whole PEP process for year 1 and year 2, kind of like a timeline for my 2 PEP assignments.

Year 1

In December of first year you are asked to select your top 2 preferred areas of research out of: Human Development; Cancer/Immunology; Cardiorespiratory Fitness; Mind and Movement; Nutrition, Metabolism and the Endocrine System; Public Health and Global Health. Out of the 2 choices you make you are asked to indicate a first choice and a second choice. I chose Human Development as my first choice and Cardiorespiratory Fitness as my second. I wanted to do something in Human Development as we touched on aspects of it during the content covered in our first semester and I quite enjoyed it.

After that you are placed in groups of 5-6 based on the theme you have picked. Each group is allocated a supervisor and you’re given guidelines on which weeks you should meet and what sort of work you should be doing. Whilst you are given guidelines, the whole PEP is very much independant and you do need to take it upon yourselves to arrange meetings and make sure you’re getting the work done because there really is nobody chasing after you.

In the first meeting you need to decide on a question within the chosen theme. As you probably saw from above, the themes are very broad so you’ve got a wide scope to choose from, but of course, you have to make sure everybody in the group is happy with the chosen question. In our group we started off by all sharing the areas within Human Development we were interested in and bouncing lots of ideas back of forth. It certainily wasn’t easy choosing a question. We spend 2 hours in our first meeting and still had no question. We then met again quite soon after, spent another couple of hours before we finally got somewhere. As a group we decided we’d like to look at the fertility aspect of Human Development with a focus on infertility, later deciding to narrow that to female infertility. We then thought we’d like to focus on a specific cause of female infertility, and a little bit of googling told us that PCOS was the largest cause. So there we had it, the basis of our question was going to be about infertility in PCOS. We didn’t finalise the actual phrasing of the question till many weeks later though, which ended up being: What are the treatment options for anovulation in PCOS?

The next thing that needs to be done is splitting off the question into different subtopics. Each member of the group has to then take a subtopic, research it and a write up a short 2-3 page report. The subtopic I decided to take was the pharmacological treatments for treating infertility in PCOS and in my report I discussed the mechanism of action, effectiveness and side effects of 3 different medications. We had other members of the group looking at the pathophysiology of PCOS, the impacts of making lifestyle changes and surgical treatments. Here’s a little snippet of me working on my report, colour-coding everything to keep track of my references…

After the individual reports are done you then go on to create a group poster. I’m really into designing things so I decided to take lead in designing our poster. I initially created about 20 different drafts, in different colours so we could all settle on an initial layout. We then divided the sections and I showed everybody the areas of the poster in which their information would go and how many words we could afford to use on their section. We also had to add to joint sections of the poster for which we arranged numerous meetings so we could together create a lay abstract, a scientific abstract, a section on epidemiolgy, psychosocial implications and a conclusion for the poster. You have a word limit and a limit of only 20 references that can be used on the poster so a lot of collabration is needed so you can share references as much as possible. In order to meet the word limit we had to cut down on a lot of words and add lots of little diagrams and pictures to add to the visial appeal. The poster is marked on the content as well as the design and whether it’s eye-catching so all that was really important.

I love doing things like this so I spent hours on end every evening, re-laying it out, putting the whole thing together. You also need a catchy title for the poster. We made a list of suggestions and decide to vote as a group on our proffered one which ended up being: An egg every 28th day, keep PCOS at bay?

After the poster is complete, you have to submit it for printing ready for the presentation day. The posters are then printed on A1 and as a group you have to present the findings to 3 examiners and answer any questions they have. This also contributes to your final score. Here’s a photo of our group poster from the presentation day…

Year 2

The year 2 PEP project is an individual literature review. Around October you are asked to indicate your choice of topic. This time you’re given a list of around 800 specific questions and you have to select 10 in order of preference. This was quite a task. I read through them all, saved the ones I was interested in and looked back at it over several days to make sure I was 100% happy with all the ones I had chosen for my 10. The question I placed as number 1 on my list was “Do children understand death?”, I just thought it would be really interseting and something a bit differnt to what I’ve previously done as it’s less scientific. Another question that ranked quite highly on my list was one about cleft/lip palate. I tried to pick questions that I felt I had an idea how I’d structure my dissertation for.

The questions are allocated at around December-January time and you just get an email stating which one you’ll be researching and your supervisor. The question I was allocated was “Environment Causes of Birth Defects” which was 8th on my list of 10. I was a bit unsure about this question initially as it felt a bit vague and I wasn’t sure how I’d structure it or which environmental causes I’d focus on. Of course, we had a word limit for our reports so I was worried about finding the balance between covering enough and doing it enough detail.

.For the year 2 PEP, before you start doing the research you’re supposed to meet with your supervisor so that’s what I did and that was really helpful in clearing up my concerns with the question. My supervisor agreed the title was too vague so she suggested I narrow it down and focus on the environmental causes of a particular condition. She had a particular interest in cleft lip/palate so she suggested that and that worked perfectly for me since one of the questions I initially placed at the top of my list was about cleft lip/palate. I ended up changing my final title to make it more relevant to Environmental Factors Contributing to Cleft Lip and Palate.

You’re supposed to have some more meetings with your supervisor throughout the semester to air any concerns and help you through, but we decided to carry out our communications via email. This time I created a spreadsheet to keep track of all my references and that worked much better for me as I was able to obtain an overview of the topic before beginning writing. We also had to include some figures in our report as that is part of the marking criteria. I added a few tables, graphs and also some drawings of the embryological development relevant to cleft lip/palate.


And that’s an overview of PEP in year 1 and year 2. Hope that’s helped those of you who were a bit unsure about what is and wanted to know a it more about it!

Posted by:Life of a Medic

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