Symposium encourages public speaking among undergraduate researchers

Presenters, moderators and visitors to the Symposium on Undergraduate Research & Creative Expression take a break Tuesday, April 17, in the Pioneer Room of the Memorial Union. Refreshments were available to visitors of the symposium.

Elizabeth Polsdofer

More than 100 ISU students put on their business professional best to present mentored research projects in a low-pressure public speaking engagement at the Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression.

The projects were presented Tuesday and ranged from genetics, engineering and mathematics to fashion design, psychology and business.

Each project displayed the technical and minute details of undergraduate research in addition to weeks of careful preparation for the symposium presentation.

In order to enter in the symposium, students needed to fill out an application process and then go through a selection process.

A key component of the symposium is technical communication as well as engaging a lay audience.

Since its start in 2007, the undergraduate research symposium has exploded in numbers and diversity of research subjects presented, with more fine arts and other non-stereotypical types of research emerging each year.

“We are at the limits for the number of rooms and number of hours we can use,” said Dana Schumacher, the symposium coordinator. “It’s going to be a challenge [to expand].”

The presentation of research material is a visual record of achievement in undergraduate researchers for faculty members to show how education is being passed to the next generation. In order for the research to be accepted at the symposiums, undergraduates need to be mentored by a professional academic in their given field.

Ian Schneider, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and a research mentor, cited participation in research as an undergraduate as something that adds to the educational experience at Iowa State.

“There is a lot of excitement in the learning process and a huge change of ability from when students enter the lab not knowing much about research or lab techniques,” Schneider said. “The symposium is something that is a little bit more upscale than formal meetings and something for the students to prepare seriously for.”

A key component of the symposium is for students to become comfortable with public speaking about their academic research and to be able to communicate effectively to broad audience.

“I definitely feel more comfortable about how academic presentations are structured and feel more comfortable interacting with an audience,” said Chloe Dedic, graduate student in mechanical engineering and a two-year participant of the undergraduate research symposium. “I was extremely nervous last year, and I was just moderately nervous this year.”

Looking ahead to next year, Schumacher is concerned about the challenges that come along with having a popular symposium.

“If it grows too much more, it will either become more competitive or we will have to rethink the use or how we use the time to expand it,” Schumacher said. “I don’t want it to be tremendously competitive, because I want students to have the experience of presenting research.”