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Students still present research amid coronavirus


Despite the interruption of in-person classes and the transition to online learning, undergraduate students still had a platform to present the research they’ve been conducting over the last year.

The 26th annual Undergraduate Research Forum was held online this year on Wednesday, April 29. More than 300 presentations were registered, created by more than 500 undergrads, their graduate student mentors and faculty. This is the first time the symposium has been held online.

Students may have conducted research as part of a class, community study, service-learning project, independent study or creative project.

This year, students were given a time slot to join an electronic meeting, where they were given approximately 10 minutes to present their research and answer questions. The meetings were made up of other student presenters, faculty and a moderator.

The research, that is usually presented on posters, was formatted into PowerPoint presentations given through WebEx.

Senior early childhood education major Jenna Breuer presented her research, titled, “Relationships Between Children & LGBT-Identifying Characters in Picture Books,” on Wednesday morning.

Her research was cut short when she had to leave campus, as many of the books she used came from university or Oxford libraries. After this setback, Breuer considered dropping out of the forum.

“I was kind of nervous, you know, when all this hit, and honestly, I almost thought about not doing it,” she said. 

Breuer said she knows some students who chose to drop out of the forum, unable to finish research because they were no longer on campus. 

Breuer said balancing both research and online classes was almost too much to handle.

“For a brief moment, I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can keep doing this,’” Breuer said.

In the end, Breuer was able to work with the research she had to finish her project. Between virtual meetings with her professor and training sessions offered by the forum’s organizers on how to present, Breuer decided not to drop out.

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Senior biochemistry major Madelyn Smith ran into some of the same problems.

Smith’s research for her presentation, “The Role of Lipids in Thylakoid Protein Insertion,” which studies how proteins move through plants, was interrupted after she had to leave campus and her lab.

“Having to stop collecting data in the middle of your project makes it really hard to have enough information to fully present a project that you’ve done,” Smith said.

Like Breuer, Smith worked closely with her advisor to complete the project. Using similar data from other studies, her conclusions became hypothetical. Instead of completing research in the lab, she presented on what would have happened, had she been able to finish.  

Although both Breuer and Smith found presenting online a little easier than presenting in front of a large group of people, they missed the face-to-face interaction that is usually a staple of the forum.

“Originally I’m supposed to have my poster, and people were going to come up and talk to me,” Breuer said. “So it was a little disappointing not being able to have that aspect of it, where I could share this with different people that came up.”

Breuer was in a presentation group with students who had conducted research on varying topics and found it difficult to ask questions about topics she had little knowledge on. 

She also had less time to field questions about her own presentation and said she was disappointed she didn’t have the opportunity to talk about more aspects of her research.

Breuer said the moderator of her group did a great job of providing students with questions about their research, trying to allow them to get the most out of the online presentations.

Smith said all faculty and advisors during the switch to the online forum have been working incredibly hard for students to still have the opportunity to share their research.

Despite the online platform and the challenges that come with remote research, both Smith and Breuer said they are grateful they were still able to present their projects, even if not in the way they had originally pictured.

“Any time you can say you’ve presented work that you’ve done is really important,” Smith said.