The International Undergraduate Research Symposium
Alfred R. Conklin, Jr.
An Encounter to Advance International Scientific Interaction and Collaboration between Undergraduate Students, Faculty and the Local Science Community, and to increase Cultural Understanding and Peace.
The International Undergraduate Research Symposium (IURS) was founded by Wilmington College’s Alfred R. Conklin, Jr. Ph.D. and Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador’s Professor Rosario Briones in January 2008. The Symposium developed from two sources. Doing research for Tom Stilwell’s and Dr. Conklin’s book on World Food, Professor Conklin visited a farmer in Ecuador. The second part was his meeting Professor Briones at the 2007 FAST meeting in Panama. These two events lead to Conklin taking three Wilmington College students to Ecuador in January, 2008. As part of this trip, Professor Briones organized a symposium where Pontificia Universtidad Catolica del Ecuador and Wilmington College students could present their undergraduate research in poster format. In addition to the three Wilmington College students 10 Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador participated.
The Symposium also included a presentation by Dr. Conklin and an environmental forum. Conklin’s presentation described his work on the nature of the proton in the environment. The Forum discussed various ongoing assessments of various environments in Ecuador. Eric Howard, the director of FAST was one of the presenters at the forum.
The basic idea behind the IURS is that it is essential to the education of young scientist that they gain experience in, not only doing research, but also in how to communicate their research results to other scientist, including other undergraduate researchers. Upon graduation students will either go to graduate school or into industry. In both of these situations they will be required to make oral presentation and write reports describing the results of their researches. For this reason it is essential that they have an opportunity to develop the skills necessary to make these presentations.
Colleges and Universities have courses and seminar series designed to teach students how to make presentations and how to write. These experiences, while necessary, are to a “captive” audience of people the students know. The question in the student’s mind is how do they compare, how does their work compare, to their colleagues from other colleges and universities and to their work? These questions can be answered by attending and presenting at local and national professional meetings such as those of the American Chemical Society and the Soil Science Society of America to name only two.
As good and as essential as these opportunities are, they do not answer the international question. Students who have even a small amount of experience with industry or only a few opportunities to tour science-based industries will understand that they will be working on an international scale. They will be interacting and working with peoples from many different parts of the world. So the question arises as to how their work compares on an international bases. How will they develop the international network they will eventually need to have a successful career?
Unfortunately, there is a dearth of venues where undergraduates can present their research, results at the international level. There is only one true venue that brings students together where they can learn and practice making both oral and written presentations and that is the IURS. These objectives are attained by bringing students from different parts of the world together, having them make poster presentations and learn about preparing their research results for publication.
In addition to providing a forum for undergraduate students to present their research the IURS is designed to allow and encourage students from different parts of the world to interact with each other and develop both professional and personal globe spanning networks. Interaction and network development takes place not only during the symposium poster presentations but also during other common activities, including meals, and tours, which are part of the overall symposium.
The objective of the IURS is to provide students from different countries an opportunity to form both professional and personal relationships. During the first symposium there was concern that this might not go smoothly. However, comments made at the end of the Symposium made it clear that that concern was unfounded as indicated by comments made.
At the conclusion of the 2008 symposium students’ comments were that they were disappointed because they did not have enough time to interact with each other (Bliss Magella, Jan. 2008).
Because of the comments made by Bliss Magella, the opportunities for interaction between students were greatly increased during the 2009 Symposium.
Another potential obstacle to be overcome is language. This concern was expressed in comments made by one of the Wilmington College participants during and 2009 IURS symposium.
“I did not think I could understand the foreign students, but I could” Mathew Stroud. (Jan. 2009)
It is an important function of the IURS to teach students from around the world that they can understand one another and that this understanding can run deeper than language.
The second IURS occurred from January 25 to February 6, 2009 and saw a dramatic increase in the number of students, faculty and schools involved and in the areas of the world represented. In addition, several new components were added to the symposium. Each of the international faculty advisors presented their research in an hour-long oral presentation. Two workshops were conducted. One was on field sampling; the other on writing research papers for publication; specifically for publication in the Journal of Young Investigators.
The IURS is a forum and educational opportunity primarily intended for undergraduate science students. Students studying Physics, Chemistry or Biology are expected to form the majority of the participants. Science based areas of study such as Environmental Science and Crop and, Soil Science are also included in this group. Closely related areas such as computer science, engineering, mathematics and others may also be included at the discretion of that Year’s director.
The IURS consist of three major parts. First and foremost are the student’s research presentations. Students present posters (a requirement for attending the symposium) and faculty advisors present lectures on their research. The second part consists of short courses. Typically, there will be two short courses. One will be on a subject which students might not otherwise have an opportunity to learn about; such as field sampling, fungi, or Chitosan chemistry to cite three examples. A second short course will be devoted to preparation of research results for publication. The third part will be tours of local science based industries. These tours are intended to show students what types of job opportunities are available and how their scientific education is put to use after graduation.
Students are encouraged to look at and think about graduate school and to continue their education such as to provide them with additional employment opportunities.