What began in 2003 as a small gathering for School of Nursing and Health Studies students to present their research has grown to include research presentations from a variety of Georgetown students and students from other local universities.
The Undergraduate Research Conference, held in Copley Formal Lounge on Wednesday, expanded significantly this year, with 82 poster presentations instead of the usual 50.
The conference is organized by the Student Planning Committee, which comprises six students — four from the NHS and two from the College. They encourage students to submit research beyond the basic sciences.
“Stereotypically, when you think of research, you think about pipettes in a lab, but what we’re seeing is that there’s something that’s going more towards literature reviews, public health and policy topics,” Co-Chair Faith Svigos (NHS ’14) said.
The conference’s faculty advisor, Alex Theos, who teaches in the department of human science, said that the conference is a unique chance for students who work on extensive research projects outside of class to present their work.
“That’s really the focus of the day: the opportunity for these students who’ve been involved in independent research to present to their peers,” he said. “It’s really good practice because quite a lot of these students will, I’m sure, eventually go on, even while they’re undergraduates, to national, international meetings.”
Student Planning Committee member Colin Ryan (NHS ’13) said that research at the conference covers extremely diverse topics within the science field.
“The whole point of it is to have a health sciences research symposium so anything that’s related to health science, whether it be mathematics, health policy, global health, biology or chemistry,” he said. “Basically anything that undergraduates participated in their lab, they’re able to present at our conference, which is a pretty unique opportunity in the area”
After students presented their posters and were judged by faculty volunteers, the Student Planning Committee chose three researchers to give oral presentations on their work to the whole conference.
According to Theos, there is a growing number of female students participating in the annual conference. Seventy-one percent of this year’s presenters were women.
In addition to the female students, this year’s keynote speaker was Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Carolyn Clancy. Biology professor Heidi Elmendorf received the Allan Angerio Award for Excellence in Faculty Mentorship, which is given out annually at the conference.
“There’s a theme here. Heidi’s winning the Allen Angerio Award and the three abstracts that were selected for oral presentations are all female scientists,” Theos said. “And our speaker is a female, a very qualified, distinguished, female scientist.”
Ryan hopes that the ever-increasing number of students who want to present their work indicates that more undergraduates are pursuing research outside the classroom.
“It was great to see how many people just came out and said ‘I want to present my research and get it out there,’ which is really encouraging for our campus, as well as for all the other D.C. area campuses, for undergraduate research,” Ryan said. “It shows that the faculty members are getting engaged with the students and the students are trying to get engaged with what the faculty are interested in. There’s definitely a reciprocal relationship there.”