Making the case for online conferences: The UG Research Showcase
This year marked two important milestones for the University’s Undergraduate Research Showcase: the annual event celebrated its fifth birthday, and, for the first time ever, it took place all online.
The exhibition offers an opportunity for undergraduates to share projects they’ve undertaken during their time at the university – for example, as an element of coursework, in association with an internship, through volunteering schemes, or even just for fun in their spare time. They had the option of communicating their work either in the form of a 250-word abstract – which could be accompanied by images, videos, or audio files – or as a research poster.
This year, a record-breaking 70 submissions were received – 37 abstracts and 33 posters. Although the majority of submissions tended to come from students in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) fields, there was one particularly exciting contribution from Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS): the first-ever submission in the form of a script, provided by a student in English and Drama.
These successes were in large part thanks to the efforts of Emily Bushnell, a Student Learning Support Officer working in the Academic Skills and Student Engagement Team (ASSET). Emily was tasked with figuring out how to run the event in its new, pandemic-proof format, and to encourage students to take part in what could easily have seemed like just one more screen-based activity.
She started planning for the event months in advance, investigating what options would allow the Showcase to achieve its intended learning outcomes while also giving attendees an engaging and enjoyable experience. Particularly tricky was figuring out how to replicate a poster session in a virtual environment, and how to easily hold concurrent breakout sessions that would facilitate relaxed, informal talks and networking opportunities.
Surprisingly, these goals could be achieved by using WordPress– a familiar, user-friendly platform that provided flexibility and interactivity through the use of polls and embedded forms for comments or questions. She was also able to set up an icebreaker that allowed attendees to insert pushpins into a digital map, highlighting that while many contributors were based in the UK, some were joining in from overseas.
The online exhibition ran for a week after being launched at an online reception (a recording of which can be viewed here) hosted by Professor Tim Quine (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Education). Both staff and students were invited to hear keynote presentations, after which the students were able to attend breakout sessions in which they could hear about current projects being undertaken across the institution through which they could further develop their research skills.
One of the highlights of the reception was the announcement of the four winners – two each from the abstract and poster categories – of the UG Research Showcase competition. The winners presented their work to the University of Exeter audience, which gave them a trial run for their appearance at the national British Conference of Undergraduate Research, which was hosted by the University of Leeds on 12-13 April 2021.
The online format proved a success: attendance was higher than in previous years when the event ran on campus, and the WordPress format had the added benefit of giving audience members a chance to spend more time examining submissions in detail during their free time, rather than having to rush off to a class or meeting.
When on-campus activities resume, Emily hopes the event can regain some of its lost face-to-face components, but she also believes that digital techniques will play an important role in shaping the event. She praises the way that online activities remove barriers typically associated with being on different campuses or in different countries, and is keen to experiment with novel elements such as an undergraduate research version of the #tweetyourthesis competition run by the Doctoral College.
During the lockdown, many educators have inquired about whether and how to take poster sessions and conferences online. The success of the UG Research Showcase not only shows that it is possible to make the virtual format work, but also provides an excellent template that others can use in their own contexts.
Congratulations to all the UG Research Showcase Winners
Sara Abdel Ahad, Renewable Energy – Introducing Solar Squared Glass Blocks in Dubai Metro Stations
Gemma Asher, Psychology – Will the Correction of a Self-Other Bias Have an Effect on Bystander Intervention During Sexual Harassment Within the Night-Time Scene?
Gemma Newbold, Geography – Using Landsat 8 OLI to combat desertification: monitoring Justdiggit regreening projects in Kenya
Kathryn Bullough, Biosciences – How effective is the BCG vaccine in preventing Bovine Tuberculosis in badger populations?
Natasha Reddy, Medical Science – Does the loss of STAT6 lead to HLA-I hyperexpression in beta-cells?
Amber Luckett, Medical Science – Utilising a novel CRISPR/Cas9 approach to study STAT3 localisation in pancreatic beta-cells
Bente Hollestelle, Medical Science – HLA class II variants influence Ménière’s disease susceptibility in the UK Biobank population
Anwar Nijm, Medical Science – Exploring the molecular consequences of disrupting the interaction between contactin-4 and amyloid precursor protein, implicated in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease
Gemma Brownbill, Sports and Health Sciences – Deception of Isometric Exercise Intensity: Neuromuscular and Performance Outcomes of Fatigue
* Emily Bushnell has recently moved to a new role in the Study Abroad team at the University of Surrey, building on the experience she gained in her Graduate Business Partner role at Exeter. We wish her all the best in her new role.
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