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Science & Technology

Drexel Revives Interdisciplinary Research Conference, Set for April

By: Ben Seal

January 11, 2017

After going without a universitywide research symposium in 2016, Drexel will once again provide a platform for students to share their interdisciplinary work and test out their presentation skills this year. The Emerging Graduate Scholars Conference, set for April 27, was recently announced by the Graduate College, the Graduate Student Association and the Office of Research as an opportunity to shine a light on innovative research and promote collaboration among Drexel students.

The conference is intended to give graduate students a chance to present their research to a general audience — to show not just what they’ve accomplished in the lab, but also why the wider populace should care. In the process, they’ll gain valuable experience that will help at larger conferences and job interviews, said Katie Van Aken, vice president of the Graduate Student Association and a PhD candidate in Materials Science and Engineering. The GSA helps fund the travel of students who apply for assistance presenting their work at conferences around the country, but it can’t accept everyone who submits, she said. The recent creation of the Teck-Kah Lim Travel Award Fund is aimed at increasing the University’s assistance. The on-campus event will be significant for anyone who can’t travel.

“We feel bad having to say no to a lot of people who obviously have a good reason to go and present their work,” said Van Aken. “This will be a good opportunity for students to present in-house and get used to presenting … without having to pay for travel.”

The day’s events, set to take place in the Bossone Research Center, will include poster presentations with about 50 examples of students’ work, two dozen oral presentations, a keynote speaker and a handful of career development panels. There will also be a three-minute thesis competition based on the international 3MT competition founded by the University of Queensland in which graduate students have three minutes and one slide to present their research in terms that could be understood by any member of the public. A networking reception will follow.

Kara Spiller, PhD, an assistant professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, is set to present the keynote speech — a particularly good fit for the occasion, Van Aken said, because her interdisciplinary work will resonate with the day’s theme. Spiller’s work involves collaborations with clinicians, biologists, mathematicians, psychologists and engineers, and her research on neuroinflammation and gender as part of the Drexel Areas of Research Excellence initiative incorporates six of the University’s colleges.

The conference will be as diverse as the Graduate College itself, with oral presentations that could vary from engineering to the arts to the hard sciences. Van Aken said she hopes the event can help spark interdisciplinary collaboration. Valerie Tutwiler, also a vice president of the GSA and a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering, agreed.

“We hope that graduate students will be able to learn about research that’s happening all across the University and potentially forge new collaborations that will facilitate better and more effective research,” said Tutwiler.

The GSA, Graduate College and Office of Research planned the conference after the GSA received requests from several graduate student organizations seeking an event that would allow their members to practice their presentations prior to making the leap to a national or international conference, according to Tutwiler.

“We looked at how many students wanted to do an event like this and we decided the best way to do it would be to plan one that was Graduate Collegewide,” Tutwiler said.

To ensure the presentations at the conference demonstrate the best of what Drexel researchers have to offer, abstracts will be accepted through March 1 and the most qualified will be selected for the event. Similarly, students interested in the three-minute thesis competition will be asked to submit videos so six to 10 finalists can be chosen to present in the Mitchell Auditorium on April 27.

Jerry John Nutor, president of the GSA and a PhD nursing student in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, said awards will be given out at the conference for outstanding 3MT, oral and poster presentations. There will also be a People’s Choice Award for all three categories.

As it prepares for the event, the GSA is hoping to build out committees of student volunteers to help the conference run smoothly by focusing on the abstract submissions, career development panels and planning for the big day itself. Van Aken said there has already been significant interest among graduate students.

For Graduate College Dean James Herbert, the conference presents an exciting opportunity for Drexel researchers to come together for a unique experience.

“The conference will afford students the opportunity to showcase their work and practice key presentation skills in a challenging yet safe environment,” said Herbert. “It will also provide a chance for students, faculty and professional staff to learn about the breadth of research at Drexel. … It promises to be a highly engaging event.”