By Anna Alvarado & Amanda Shelton | UTS Staff Writers | SQ Online (2013-14)
On Saturday, April 26th, the University of California, San Diego held its 27th Annual Undergraduate Research Conference (URC). At this event, 136 UCSD undergraduate researchers attended and presented their work. Novel research was introduced and discussed, with topics spanning various fields, from humanities and social sciences to biology and engineering.
Small panels of students were held, each with a mentor observing and encouraging questions. Panels consisted of multiple topics including (but not limited to) Neuroscience, Medicine & Medical Applications, and Cellular & Molecular Biology. These panels allowed for students and their respective mentors to learn more about research studies that are both related to their fields and completely different from it. It also provided the undergrads with a feel for research presentation and defense, with many presenting their research for the first time in front of their colleagues.
Karen Van Ness, MA, C.Phil, the coordinator of the URC, states, “When you are an undergraduate, you’re constantly thinking about your future — where you will go when you graduate, what you will do next. But participating in research means that you contribute to scientific knowledge right now, and I think that this helps connect students with what they are studying. It’s not an abstract concept to learn for a test, but something that is real and has effects on the world around us.”
The contributions of these students do not go unnoticed. All of the students that were present at the conference were nominated by their respective faculty advisor. In fact, Van Ness mentions that, “the comment I hear over and over again from the faculty who participate is how deeply impressed they are with the quality of the students’ research as well as their dedication and professionalism.”
These qualities are seen in the interesting scientific breakthroughs introduced by undergraduate students. An example is fourth-year undergraduate Cindy Lam who discussed her interesting findings regarding brain development in kindergarten children. Her interests centered on the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and educational development. “At the URC, I presented on ‘cortical temporal dynamics of math processing and working memory in kindergartners,’” Lam said. “My project utilized a multimodal neuroimaging technique called Anatomically Constrained Magnetoencephalography (aMEG) to investigate the role of working memory in the development of math skills.”
Lam, and many other biologists at the conference, proved their expertise in their particular fields to their peers and faculty. It served not only as a way to present the students’ progress but also as a way to gain feedback about their research. “This is my third time presenting at a one of UCSD’s research conferences,” she said. “It was an incredibly enriching experience for me to consolidate and present my work to an audience that was both engaged and provided valuable feedback.”
The Undergraduate Research Conference was a rewarding experience for all involved and allowed students to both share and learn about much of the research going on at UCSD. It is a testament to how involved undergraduates are in research going on around campus, enabling young scientists to apply the knowledge they’ve gained throughout their studies here at UCSD.