Symposium encourages undergrad research

The Students’ Union gave over 120 students the chance to show off their research Nov. 25. Many students walked away with awards for their work.

SU vice-president academic Alyssa Stacy organized the undergraduate research symposium and said the event has more than double the number of entries of 2009.

“Last year they felt like it was a very closed event and this year we were able to really open it up so people walking by felt like they could just go check it out,” said Stacy.

The SU’s panel of judges from several faculties across the University of Calgary spent five minutes speaking with each presenter about their research posters with topics ranging from physics to the arts.

Biology instructor and judge Isabelle Barrette-Ng said she thought the quality of research was impressive.

“I think it gives the opportunity to students to actually get a real taste of doing research,” said Barrette-Ng. “I think there are a lot of opportunities for undergraduate students to actually take part, first-hand, in research and I think that’s really important.”

Fifth-year physics student Benjamin Blumer competed in the event with his work on the practical application of quantum mechanics to build faster computers. Blumer said the symposium was his first chance to make a research poster and be able to present — a great learning experience he hopes will help him in the future.

“It’s definitely important for a scientist to have that skill, it’s also very enjoyable,” said Blumer. “The trick is usually getting people not to walk away when I talk about my research so to have people come up and ask me about it is fantastic.”

Stacy said events like the symposium are important to showcase the work done at the undergraduate level, which many might not be aware of. The research projects came from a variety of places — honours research, faculty research at the behest of a professor, research abroad or even extra-curricular interest.

“That’s one thing that I really like about the symposium, ” said Stacy. “There’s so many pockets of research happening everywhere and they’re never brought together, so that’s what the symposium does, brings all those different groups together.”

Fourth-year bio-chemistry student Isaac Martens was this year’s sustainability award winner for his work with metal organic frameworks for gas storage and separation. Martens said while he thinks the symposium is a great opportunity for students, it is more of an exercise in practice than a serious research showcase.

“It gives you a little bit of experience in presenting your results to a group of peers, but it doesn’t really have a professional connotation to it,” said Martens.

Martens suggested that the SU could improve the event by having more judges from the presenters’ fields, as he felt many there weren’t familiar with current work in some of the research areas.

“If you’re doing a presentation on quantum physics and none of the people there know anything about that sort of thing, that background really helps in terms of the feedback that you get,” Martens said.

Stacy said the SU is already planning several changes for next year’s symposium, such as hosting the event later in the school year and giving more time for researchers to present their findings. This year the judges were given five minutes to ask questions of each researcher, which Stacy said needs to be extended in order to grasp some of the work being done.

“That was really interesting to us because it shows that it’s not simple research,” she said.

According to Barrette-Ng, many undergraduate students aren’t aware of how to start research projects or even that the opportunities are available to them but it’s in their best interests to learn.

“When you’re doing it first hand you’re actually engaged fully into the research process and more able to pursue a question of your own,” said Barrette-Ng.

Martens encourages all students, especially those in the sciences, to get experience in research.

“Getting motivated is the most difficult part of the process for sure” said Martens. “Finding a project and organizing things is difficult, especially for undergraduates. You have to find things you’re interested in and seek out those opportunities yourself.”

Stacy said that U of C president Elizabeth Cannon has made it clear the school will focus on research in the future and will support events like the symposium with her administration.

“As a student, there are many opportunities around that other universities can not provide,” said Stacy.

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