Spring is always the busiest time of year for research/scholarship activities for me. Most of our bird fieldwork is done in the spring and nearly all amphibian work is done in the spring. Combined with the increase in research activities of my students and I, spring also brings an abundance of opportunities for my research students to share their findings in poster or oral presentations.
In late March, the Beta Beta Beta National Biology Honor Society North Central 1 District Meeting was held in Chicago. Four of my research advisees and one additional student for whom I have helped with statistical analysis all traveled with me to the meeting and each gave a poster presentation. Not one of these students is graduating this May and this was the first time any of them had presented their work in such a way. Four awards were given in their division (Organismal Biology), and among these five students, the second, third, and honorable mention awards were claimed.
In late April, there was bit of chaos. One meeting in which my crew always participates is the Annual Meeting of the Illinois State Academy of Science (ISAS) and this year it was the same weekend as our in-house Celebration of Scholarship, which is also effectively a conference at which there are oral presentations, posters, and awards for students at our university. Once I realized these events were the same weekend, and that the ISAS posters were to be exclusively presented on Friday, I told my students that they can either accomplish only half of what they are capable of that weekend and present one poster at either place, or go all-out and present a poster on Friday on campus and give an oral presentation on Saturday at ISAS.
The oral presentation is always scarier for undergrads (despite my warning them that having an overly aggressive or harsh critic at a poster can be far worse because they could linger). Again, these are all Juniors, with only the Beta Beta Beta meeting under their belt with regards to experience. All five of them stepped up, big time, and presented posters on Friday on campus, and gave oral presentations on Saturday at ISAS. Further, they accounted for two 3rd place awards, and two 2nd place awards at Friday’s on campus event, and a 1st place and two 2nd place awards at ISAS on Saturday. In amongst these students presenting in Friday’s on-campus event was also one of my Sophomore research students – she didn’t win an award, but she was there, presenting novel, interesting science as a 2nd-year college student, and that experience will make her that much better in the not-too-distant future.
We are gearing up for an early summer National Convention of the Beta Beta Beta National Honor Society in Erie, PA, and right now, three students are going to present their work at that meeting. Further, now that they’ve had local, state, regional, and national student-only experience, we are planning for the big stage of a big national meeting – Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, January 2015.
I am extremely pleased with the opportunities these students have to start with smaller meetings then eventually go to a national meeting before they graduate. This is only possible if they start their research programs early – preferably late in their Sophomore year, but early in their Junior year works well, too.
In the end, I feel like the coach of a sports team who finished a season among the leaders in their league, and who gets all of their best players back the following season while adding new, motivated players to the mix. I love watching my students accept challenges, encourage, teach, and learn from each other, and accomplish goals. It truly makes my investment of time (and Track Changes and red pens) into this process worthwhile.