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Conference Reflections

National Conferences on Undergraduate Resarch (NCUR)

2018 Conference: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

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.

Twenty MRADS students presented their research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at the University of Memphis in April 2018. This conference is the largest symposium in the country, bringing together 2000 undergraduate students from all fields and disciplines. MRC 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 and the MRADS. 

Student Reflections

Caroline Scheuing

Attending the National Conference on Undergraduate Research was one of the most memorable parts of my college experience so far at Michigan, so much so that I plan to apply and attend next year’s NCUR conference if possible because I enjoyed it so thoroughly. In the few days leading up to the trip, I was actually a bit apprehensive that we would be the most inexperienced people at the entire conference, or that we would feel overshadowed by more experienced researchers. The first day of the conference made it clear those were unfounded fears, because majority of the students attending were our age, and even if they were older, they were very inclusive toward us. Most of the senior or graduate students I had the chance to talk with were very welcoming and willing to share what they knew (sometimes I even learned more about the background of what I’m working on in my own research).

The first day of the conference started off with a few featured plenary speakers, one was Claudia San Pedro, the president of Sonic Drive-In, and her speech highlighted the appreciation of undergraduate research and how we are all working toward greater goals of discovering more knowledge, and it was very gratifying to hear that large corporations (even ones such as Sonic) are raising money to fund and support undergraduate studies. The second speaker Ramu Damodaran was a director from the United Nations, and he gave one of the most inspirational, thought-provoking speeches I have ever attended-- I don’t think I will forget the way he spoke so naturally without a scripted page but yet so passionately about the topics he addressed. He spoke on the use of reason and peaceful in the modern day world to combat conflict and international issues, and his speech was centered around the rendition of the acronym NCUR as “Now, come unleash reason.” His overall message moved me so deeply that I went up after the NCUR ceremony was over to shake his hand and thank him for such a powerful speech, and I got to talk to him briefly.

            My poster presentation was Friday afternoon, and I had the pleasure of speaking with a few undergraduate students doing similar research, professors of psychology and neuroscience, some Ann Arbor alumni, some people who used to live in Michigan, and even had a conversation with one man who talked with me for at least forty minutes about his personal research and life story. That was the most memorable person’s story I heard. I also became much more comfortable talking about my research with people and found the best whittled-down explanation in layman’s terms of what my research accomplished.

Overall, NCUR was an experience that let me make connections with many more people than just the other UROP/MRC students, and I learned valuable skills of how to convey information about my research to other people. I met some fascinating people who each had a unique backstory, and heard some very inspiring speeches. The underlying message that all these people had after years of schooling, degrees, even failure, and then finally, success, was that you have to stand back from the research you’re doing and the career path you think you have in mind, and look at the big picture: let yourself realize that any path can work out and lead you to a career you’re happy in, if we’re willing to work hard and persevere in every facet of our work leading up to that point.

Alison Lo

Alison Lo

This was the first trip that I took for school without a chaperone, and so on this trip we were responsible for ourselves and each other. I worried about this at first because I did not think that we would be responsible or would communicate well because we were such a decently large group, and so I thought that we might miss our flight or such. However, I was proved wrong, because for the most part the group did hold each other accountable and made sure that everybody was where they were supposed to be. Over this trip, I think we all learned how to be responsible for ourselves and how to be considerate of other people.

I enjoyed learning about other people’s research, and I did not realize that research could be expressed in so many ways. It was interesting to pick up on so many random tidbits and to learn what other people were researching. In some cases, I did not even think of researching these subject areas. It was also fun to question them on their research and to probe them further in areas they had not thought of before.

I remember looking at the program and seeing that there were creative arts performances. We stumbled into one that was performed in a dance studio. This girl had done her research project on zombies and then choreographed a six-minute dance routine that was inspired by her research. We had no idea was what going on during the performance or what we had walked into. However, after the performance was finished, the girl came out for a Q&A session and we learned more about the nuances and details that she put into her dance. It was very fascinating to see her research expressed in a different format from a poster or a slideshow.

A big part of going to Oklahoma for me was to experience the culture and history there. I made sure to try to explore Oklahoma, and I ate Sonic, Braum’s, and authentic Southern barbecue for the first time. On the first night we wandered downtown Oklahoma City, and Leanne gave us a little tour of the Memorial Museum for the Oklahoma bombing which was very interesting. Everyone that went were very respectfully quiet and reflective, which is appropriate but kind of surprised me. Leanne was also kind enough to drive us to her hometown, and in her hometown we went to a medieval fair. The fair was huge and a lot of fun, and being in her hometown changed my perspective of what Oklahoma was.

Overall, I made a lot of new friends and talked to new people that I hadn’t previously. I had lots of fun, and I am very happy that I went!

Spencer Hanson

My freshman year at the University of Michigan has been filled with countless interesting experiences. From attending a talk given by a Nobel prize-winning Physicist to cheering on the football team in the pouring rain. However, perhaps none have been as interesting as attending the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Oklahoma. It was an incredible opportunity to not only share my own research with students from across the nation, but make connections and listen to insightful presentations.

Looking back, I thought the conference would simply provide me with a chance to practice present my research before having to present in front of my peers and advisors at the Michigan Research Community Symposium the following week. Although I was more confident heading into the symposium, my journey to NCUR represented so much more than a one hour presentation. The opening ceremony included the introduction of many Native American tribes still active in Oklahoma along with a speech given by the president of the drive-in food chain, Sonic. Additionally, an important figure within the United Nations gave an engaging speech about the importance of reason. He discussed the importance of reason in contemporary society and suggested that NCUR should also stand for “Now, Come, Unleash Reason.” This was an incredible segue into the first session of the conference, as the researchers felt a strong obligation to actively participate by asking questions and promoting academic conversation.

The next day, I attended a talk given by one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While I do not think he even said the word “research,” I enjoyed listening to his stories and the way he has applied what he learned on the court to giving back to the community. I was impressed with how spoke his mind rather than relying on a rehearsed script.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the National Conference on Undergraduate Research during my freshman year. Many of the students I met were seniors presenting the culmination of their respective undergraduate research experiences, while I had just begun my college journey. It made me think about how lucky I am to be attending the University of Michigan, where cutting-edge research opportunities are extremely accessible. As I take on my role as an MRC Peer Facilitator, I will definitely advocate on behalf of NCUR. Not only as an opportunity to showcase your hard-work, but develop relationships with a variety of individuals, both from Michigan and across the nation.