R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Ciências da Saúde

Unidade de I&D

Unidade de Investigação e Formação sobre Adultos e Idosos - UnifAI [HESC-Norte-Porto-688] visitada em 07/02/2008

Classificação: Very Good

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
The Research Unit “Unidade de Investigação e Formação sobre Adultos e Idosos – UnifAI” (uID:688) contains one research group. It is a young and dynamic group, which works on gerontology and geriatrics through research, education, as well as on practical applications. In general this group has a distinct character that differs from a common bio-medical research unit. The group has managed to convey their drive and enthusiasm both in their written report, and even more so at the site visit. It is a new research group in an area in which it cannot fall back on an established research program. The group has to pave the way in Portugal and feels that it is as a challenge to do so.
The unit considers itself too small to split up in several research groups, although there are 6 thematic lines within the unit that have a common focus on gerontology in its bio-psycho-social dimensions, be it that the biomedical aspects are thus far least developed in the unit. The group considers that this may be redressed once the (multidisciplinary) doctoral programme will be in operation, and this is foreseen for the very near future. That gerontology is approached mainly from the social and clinical aspects, without disregard of the biomedical aspects, becomes evident by examining the distribution of MSc and PhD theses among different disciplines: Nursing Sciences 6 (3 MSc + 3 PhD); Biomedical Sciences 5; Social Service Sciences 2 (MSc); Gerontology 3 (MsC); Sports Sciences 1(MsC); Clinical psychology 1(MSc). While each of the thematic group leaders has his/her own field, there seems to be an appreciable degree of informal cross fertilization and co-operation.
The range of activities of the group is rather wide, which can be seen as a positive feature given the multidisciplinarity of the field. The group can have impact in the Portuguese society as a whole through its scientific and teaching activities, its contacts with the community in response to important questions, their plan to establish a longitudinal study program on aging experiences, and their efforts to launch a Portuguese Foundation of Gerontology. The unit has devoted serious effort and time to implementation and dissemination activities. They consider their website, for good reasons, an important achievement. Through this website they make the products of the unit available to the community of (potential) users.
The success in establishing a comprehensive and multidisciplinary PhD program is a major achievement. It will certainly contribute to the research training of graduate students coming from different backgrounds, several of which do not have a strong tradition in the formation of young researchers. It will also contribute to the depth of their studies but also to the depth of the interdisciplinary exchanges of the senior staff. This needs to be stimulated by enhancing the possibility of these students receiving adequate fellowships. It should be realized that in the field of Gerontology there are not many examples with the same potential in Europe.
The unit has strong leadership. The coordinator has good scientific standing, judged by her international publications, shows entrepreneurship, and is active at the international scene both to develop programs and to raise funds. The group has good contacts internationally. There is a good list of publications in peer-reviewed journals relevant to the field (although with relatively low impact factors but this is typical of the field); however, not all group leaders contribute to this in an equal manner. The visibility of the group internationally would be enhanced if more publications would appear in journals of higher impact, what the Panel strongly encourages. It should be stressed that in addition to the scientific publications the group has other important outputs in the context of its remarkable social activities in the community with respect to the medical, social and psychological problems of the elderly population. Some members of the group have difficulty in expressing themselves in English and some rely on the help of translators for realizing written reports. It would be a good investment to establish courses in scientific English language open to all PhD students and staff.
Notwithstanding its healthy ambitions and considerable achievements the group suffers from a lack of adequate housing and secretarial facilities in order to concretize its objectives. This hampers joint activities and collaboration between members coming from diverse backgrounds and diverse institutions. Nonetheless, the group seems to overcome barriers here too, as well as in other areas.
Some points deserve attention. It seems advisable, in spite of the lack of carrier paths, to invest more energy in obtaining fellowships for full time PhD students. At the same time we may suggest to set up a program of part-time fellowships for students having jobs within (allied) health fields, allowing the beneficiary to remain active in the field of present and/or future employment, e.g. by covering 80%, or other appropriate percentage, of the time. The unit could also be more active in participating in the international competition for research grants. And it could use the request for assistance from the community agencies (municipalities) to set up action research projects. These would allow not only to implement research findings in practice, but also to generate knowledge based on research regarding topics of concern at the level the community, and on the development of new research strategies directed to themes that will be of increasing importance in the near future.
In conclusion: While this group could be more productive in terms of scientific publications in English-language journals, they have managed to achieve much with notably limited resources. Most of the senior staff as well as doctoral students are only linked to the unit part-time, what is a handicap. The group’s office facilities are far from adequate, and the group lacks infrastructure in terms of support staff, administrative assistance and library facilities that meet their subject needs. Despite these limitations, the group seems to be at the cutting edge of their field in terms of their vision for the future, including their very innovative doctoral program, an excellent website in both Portuguese and English, a wide variety of publications including some in well-reputed international journals, recruitment of doctoral students from a wide geographical region and a good reputation that means that they are in the enviable situation of having practitioners request their services. This last feature is rather rare and its potential could be even better used when action research would be considered. Together with their international colleagues this group will certainly contribute to the advancement of gerontology and geriatrics in Portugal and in an international context.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
UnIFai [RG-HESC-Norte-Porto-688-1892]