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Conference Reflections

National Conferences on Undergraduate Resarch (NCUR)

2019 Conference: Kennesaw, Georgia

NCUR was established in 1987 and promotes undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity in all fields of study by sponsoring an annual conference for students.

27 MRADS students presented their research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at Kennesaw State University in April 2019. This conference is the largest symposium in the country, bringing together 2000 undergraduate students from all fields and disciplines. MRADS students attended presentations on research both in and outside of their fields from around the nation.

Attendance at NCUR was made possible by the support of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the College of Engineering, and MRADS.

Student Reflections

Lauren Austin

Being a first gen student, I was never exposed to higher education except for in the classroom, where passion for knowledge was diminished by uncaring students who acted up constantly. Then I came to college. Meeting professors, graduate students, and my own classmates helped me feel like I belonged. I was no longer the only person in the room who cared about gene expression or cell signaling, and I wasn’t mocked for loving biology as much as I do. That feeling was, and is, fantastic. NCUR was a reimagining of these experiences.

The first day of the conference, when we walked into the room where everyone was presenting, I felt much too intimidated to talk to any of the presenters. Then, as I got more comfortable after watching presenters interact with conference-goers, I began to talk to some of them. I’m extremely glad that I did. Oftentimes, the biology posters were too complex for me to understand, but I quickly found that presenters were extremely understanding of my limited knowledge of certain topics and were happy to explain things in a simpler way. Quite a few of these people that I talked to actually took time to ask about my research as well, and they gave me a lot of advice about graduate school as well as the rest of my time in undergrad. As I discussed earlier, this brought me a strong sense of belonging. I absolutely loved seeing people so passionate about their fields, and the fact that they were so kind to me made me feel much better about being in the field I’m in. 

Another problem that comes with being first gen is not knowing at all about how higher education works. I know that I would like to go to graduate school, but I am not sure about how this works. I visited the graduate school fair, and this helped a lot. Similar to the presenters, after a few of the people representing various schools learned that I was a first-year student, they immediately became open to discussing how graduate school works. I heard third, fourth, and fifth-year students asking about application deadlines and specific programs, whereas I was asking more broad questions, but the representatives were all extremely kind and understanding. 

Overall, this trip helped me connect with my peers as well as with the people in my field, and this was an experience that I will never forget. 

James Lisowski

Looking back at NCUR 2019 I can say that it was a great time and it’s worth going for any undergraduate interested in research in any way, shape, or form. Being able to present the research you’ve spent many hours and two semesters working on and seeing how interested others were in the work you did is great. 

The poster presentation, even after an intense start, ended up being one of the most fun parts of the conference, in fact it almost seemed like an hour wasn’t even enough time to present my research. The first person I presented to was an upper-level physics student who grilled me, but everyone else was amazed by the prospects of learning about a planet hundreds of light years away. Seeing the look of astonishment when I described the insane conditions of the planet I’m working on and seeing their faces brighten up when I bring up a crazy fact about space helped me to make my presentation more exciting for all. One of the best things about the presentation was despite hundred other people presenting in that time block, people chose to take their time to hear about my research. After this conference I felt a lot more confident about presenting my research, and I feel the same would happen for anyone.

As for the conference itself, looking at the trends of research around not only the nation, but the world really helped me see what types of research I could do in the future. When looking for posters to visit, the biggest problem I faced was deciding which poster to go to. For every hour I could get a good understanding of about 4 posters depending on how complex the research is. Just roaming around all of the posters and seeing all the titles and abstracts was interesting on its own, but hearing the passion in the presentations and how much work people have done is great. Though one thing I did notice was that there were almost no astronomy or physics posters at the conference. This really opened my eyes to the privilege we have for the wonderful departments and opportunities they offer here at Michigan. Knowing this helps me push myself to take full advantage of the opportunities available to me and to continue doing research here in the future.

Kammeran Barnes

The National Conference on Undergraduate Research was a very fun and beneficial research conference. It had research projects from a wide variety of fields, from art to social sciences to biology. It was a great way to broaden my horizons into different fields. When I thought of research I only considered natural sciences, but this research conference opened my eyes to research that, for example, looked into how theater and art can help teach young adults about depression. 

The conference also prepared me for the MRADS Symposium that was a week later. I was able to practice my elevator pitch at the conference and tested different styles of pitches to perfect my poster presentation. Since I did not personally know the person I was presenting to, I was able to more comfortably and calmly try out new approaches. Also, the people that I presented to asked me very intelligent questions that I had to ponder. This meant that I learned more about my own research through this process. They were able to give me a different perspective that I had not thought of before. This presentation also helped me see what the necessary information from my poster was so my elevator pitch became more efficient and clear. The conference ultimately made the symposium a breeze, I did not need to worry about my elevator pitch because I already had that experience of presenting my research at an even bigger conference. 

The research was not the only important part of this experience. I also met new people from very different backgrounds than me and I was able to learn new things from everyone I met. I even became better friends with the other people in MRADS that joined me on the bus ride. I will never forget the memories I made at NCUR. Overall, I learned a lot from NCUR and am so glad that I had the opportunity to present my research.

Kristen Bolster

The National Conference on Undergraduate Research was an opportunity that I’m so grateful to have been a part of, and I’m so glad that I ended up taking up the offer to present my research while having such a positive experience. When I first heard of NCUR, I was kind of confused because I had never heard of anything like it. I come from a community that is fairly low income and low education level, and doing research itself is still a new concept to me. So, to hear that there is a nationwide place to present the work I’ve been doing all year definitely interested me. My family’s income did not lend many opportunities for travel (I’ve never even been on a plane and am still waiting, although that bus ride was certainly an experience), so Atlanta, Georgia is the farthest I’ve ever traveled from Michigan and being so far away was kind of surreal to me. I’m not sure what I was expecting, I feel like college students are college students wherever they come from, but it was very interesting and nice to meet people from all over the country who were all doing such different work. 

On the first day of the conference, my time to present was at 1:20. I chose to do an oral presentation at the conference because I felt that I would be able to better showcase the slam poems that I created and got published, but also because I felt that my project was so different and out there that I would have an easier time just talking about it to a crowd rather than trying to fit what I did onto a poster. My oral presentation ended up going very smoothly, and although it was kind of weird if I’m honest, to be presenting slam poetry at a research convention. I think that everyone at least understood my poems, even if they weren't totally on board with the concept of my research.

I think that the most fulfilling and rewarding part of this experience, was that right after I had finished my oral presentation, which had basically concluded with two slam poems that I had gotten published, a student from the conference came up to me and started thanking me. She told me that she had never heard a slam poem before, but she really loved my stuff and she found it impactful and relatable. Throughout this year I hadn’t really thought of my research as ‘life changing.’ I’m not in a lab coming up with safer ways to administer catheters, or creating devices that sync heart monitors to Bluetooth, or helping the environment (in fact I probably wasted a lot of paper printing out all my work), but seeing how what I’m doing can affect even one person almost makes it worth it, in a very sappy sort of way. And for some reason, I needed to drive down to Georgia, on a bus, for 12 hours, just to realize that.