Project Insights from “Fostering the Courage to Learn: Student Experience at the Faculty of Dentistry”

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Written by: Sabrina Wu, Senior Research Assistant

In the Faculty of Dentistry Student Experience project, we partnered with the Faculty of Dentistry to gain a deeper and nuanced understanding of the current Dentistry student experience and how it can be strengthened. While this project was specific to the Dentistry student experience, I found that the student needs around learning resonated with our team as well in our own learning experience. I have learned a lot through this project about the courage it takes to continue down the path of learning, as well as how to communicate what I have learned.  

Articulating the Eureka in Research 

As researchers we often talk about getting to an “Aha!” moment — a point in data analysis where a puzzle starts to unravel and point to something larger — like a eureka moment. For this project, we dug through lots of incredible data and iterated many interpretations to try to get to a core need that helped explain the insights we found. After pushing through a few struggles of getting to that “Aha!” it felt incredibly rewarding once we reached it, but what we learned as a team was that the challenge and the important part didn’t just end there.  

After familiarizing ourselves with the data it felt as if we knew conceptually what we wanted to share, but we did not know how to put them into words that could inspire that same “Aha!” moment that we had. The Dentistry project has shown me the importance of developing courage and instilling courage in others to collaborate with each other in learning from and sitting with the data. In doing so, we embraced our responsibility to communicate the insights in a way that was digestible and compelled action.  

With this project, we had the privilege of speaking to multiple stakeholders, bringing in several perspectives that we wanted to bridge in our analysis. Being able to look at all these different perspectives greatly enriched the understanding of the Dentistry student experience, but we initially struggled with trying to find a common, underlying need amongst a myriad of points of view. However, the more we analyzed seemingly contrasting perspectives, the more we realized that most of our stakeholders actually shared similar values.  

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Compelling Communication  

After iterating with the team a couple of ways we could present these findings, I learned the power of working with colleagues to try to find the best way to inspire how the work can be used afterwards. For example, after years of training to write academically, we had to build the courage to unlearn some of those techniques and grooves of writing when developing the final report. We worked on writing in more plain language, not in a sense where ideas are made simpler, but rather so that we are communicating complex experiences in an uncomplicated manner so the audience can take away something from the report to work off of. This presented important moments for me to reflect on how sometimes when we are analyzing data, we also get attached to a specific way of conveying our interpretation.  

I am grateful to not only have a resilient team to help work through different ways to write about compelling insights, but also to have had the opportunity to develop different styles of packaging insights in this project with a vision, personas, and design principles to help guide future solutions.

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