Students show off academic research
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 13:02
Posters and presenters from across the state swarmed the International Lounge and Eccles Conference Center on Friday for the Utah Conference of Undergraduate Research.
The conference is based off of the National Conference for Undergraduate Research held in Wisconsin this year, where USU is sending 26 students. More than 450 students gathered to share their research projects and gather critique from fellow researchers from across all disciplines.
“It’s really just a place for undergraduate researchers to really get a conference like experience that is more local for them,” said Scott Bates, associate vice president of graduate and undergraduate research. “For local students, it is an opportunity that doesn’t necessarily come along all that often. It provides students with an invaluable skill set.”
Each school is on a rotation to host the annual event. Next year it will be hosted at BYU.
“By hosting it at USU, it will help people realize that we are the real deal when it comes to research,” said David Gage, a junior majoring in biological engineering. “It is showing the other schools that we are here and we have something to give.”
“We have students from off campus coming to USU and seeing what we do and what we have to offer and trying to showcase our undergraduate research program here,” Bates said. “To be a leader in the state is one of my goals. It is a way of promoting undergraduate research on this campus.”
USU has the second-oldest undergraduate research program in the country behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“We are one of the major research universities in the state,” said Vance Almquist, a senior majoring in soil science. “It is important to maintain the research community within the college.”
The purpose of such conferences is to share with the community the research done by undergraduates at the university. It is a mechanism for researchers to critique the works of others and learn how to make their own better.
“I think there is something about research that is and can be very isolating,” Bates said. “You are recombining DNA or studying history or you are running rats through a maze and it is very solitary. The reality is that science works best when it’s public when, people are bouncing ideas off each other.”
UCUR allows researchers to display their works to the general public.
“Conferences like this basically give us a place to put our work out for other scientists to see and critique as well as for anyone to come and look and ask questions,” Almquist said.
“It is a great opportunity to get to know the researchers and all the different projects,” said Holly Reynoso, a sophomore majoring in photography. “It’s a great way for everyone to come and interchange ideas and learn what other people are doing. I think it is a great way of connecting everyone.”
For those presenting and other undergraduate researchers, their experience provides them with a set of skills to benefit their future careers.
“When I am in class I learn something, then that same day I go into the lab and use that exact same process,” Gage said. “It was a light bulb moment. I sit in the classroom and I learn the material and in the lab realize why it’s important that we learn these things through hands on experience.”
Almquist said both the experiences in the lab and in the community presenting provide useful skills to the researcher.
“I think if you are going to be continuing a career in science, just getting used to the presentation of your results to larger bodies is very important,” Almquist said. “It’s always good for your resume, and if you are interested in running experiments, it’s great for that too.”
The knowledge of researching, experimenting and presenting results provides a strong basis for future careers, Bates said.
“I think the communication part of the conference is the key,” Bates said. “It is one part this training mechanism, when we do research the purpose is to tell people what we are doing, give and receive feedback, and we are all better for it.”
Reynoso said learning and gathering feedback influences the presenters and the audience alike.
“It is important because it helps the undergraduate know what they want to when they graduate and where they want to go,” Reynoso said. “It is very inspiring.”
Gage said the road to presenting is a long one.
“When I first started in the lab I was just washing beakers and stuff and finally, as I worked more and more and I learned more eventually, they let me start working on this project,” Gage said. “It was a long process but an interesting learning experience.”