Undergrads get research recognition

By Fabian Mayer

The University of Calgary’s seventh annual Undergraduate Research Symposium is giving 84 students a chance to showcase their research to the campus community. Over $20,000 is available to be won by undergraduates from all faculties on Nov. 29 in MacEwan Hall.

Students’ Union vice-president academic Kenya-Jade Pinto said the URS has a diverse range of topics and research that will be presented on.

“The beautiful thing about the Research Symposium is that it caters to all faculties. We do traditionally have students who apply from science and medicine, but we also have students applying from faculties that you traditionally would not think do research, which is really neat,” said Pinto.

She said the event is integral to the university’s Eyes High objective of becoming a top-five research university by 2016.

“Something like the URS is a real way that students can participate,” said Pinto. “It’s going to be the type of thing that brings us to that goal.”

Participants had to present their abstracts to the SU prior to the event. Last year’s event had 130 participants. Pinto said the decrease for this year to 84 participants was because a selection committee, which is new this year, went through the abstracts to pick the best topics for the event.

“Part of the reason why there was a decrease this year is because we did have a selection committee that was diligent in going through the abstracts and really picking the best of the best,” said Pinto. “We really wanted to select students that stuck out.” 

On Nov. 29, the event will begin with a poster competition that will be judged by 33 university professors and staff. The researchers with the best projects will be given prizes of $500–1,000, donated from U of C departments and faculties. Winners will be announced in early December.

Fourth-year health sciences student Stefana Pancic will be presenting on building the research capacity in Ethiopia. She was able to undertake her study by helping teach a molecular biology course in Ethiopia.

“It was a two-week-long course and basically we were teaching molecular biology techniques. My project was to evaluate the course and see how successful it was,” said Pancic.

The effectiveness of the course was gauged by a variety of measures, including surveys, tests and focus groups. Pancic found that the course was successful in teaching Ethiopian students basic molecular biology techniques.

Pancic said she wanted to present her findings at this year’s URS to bring attention to less traditional forms of health sciences research.

“There are a lot more research fields than just the typical biomedical sciences, such as cancer biology for example. There’s a lot more to human health than just that and I’d really like to share that with other students and maybe inspire them to pursue some other research opportunities,” said Pancic.

Fourth-year psychology student Tiffany Haig has been researching biological stress mechanisms of pregnant women, specifically how cortisol affects stress and sleep.

“The work that I did over the summer was looking at the psychobiology of stress in maternal sleep during pregnancy,” said Haig. “We measured cortisol in pregnant women, and looked at how it is associated with different sleep variables.”

Haig said events like the URS show the community the U of C’s commitment to research.

“It suggests the university’s commitment to knowledge generation and research activity in the school and in the community,” said Haig. 

Haig hopes to eventually go to medical school.

“It will help me to train as a researcher and be able to share the research that I do with other people,” said Haig. 

The Taylor Family Digital Library will be showcasing URS posters on the media screens on the first and second floors.

Pancic said the symposium is very important for the university community and provides an opportunity for students to discover different ways to get involved.

“Sometimes pursuing research can be something really intimidating for a lot of students. Coming to something like the URS really gives them some motivation and inspiration to know that they can do these kind of things at the U of C and these opportunities are available to them,” said Pancic, a sentiment that is echoed by Pinto.

“It’s really important for students to try new things, to engage in research, to step out of their comfort zone and to use their curiosity in the best way possible,” said Pinto.

Anyone is welcome to attend the event on Nov. 29.

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