All in the Presentation
After a couple hours spent presenting her research at the Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area student symposium at Elmhurst last week, Kortney Wendt had reached a conclusion.
“Doing the work is one thing, but talking about your work is a lot more difficult,” she said.
Wendt, a senior speech pathology major, had just packed up a display poster that summarized the research she had been conducting over the past year or so with Assistant Professor Michael Fraas. Her poster was one of several dozen on display in the Frick Center Saturday, each representing the work of student-researchers from one of the 15 colleges of the ACCA. The large type across the top of Wendt’s poster read: EEG Neurofeedback to Treat Cognitive-Emotional Defects Following TBI.
“People would come up and look at that title, and I could see their eyes sort of glaze over,” she said. “They’d be, like, ‘Neurofeedback? What’s that?’ But I think I did a pretty good job of explaining it.”
For the record, Wendt’s project was a case study in the use of sensors to help patients understand and alter their own brain activity as part of their rehabilitation from traumatic brain injury. Fraas said that the treatment was novel enough that even academics in his own field are sometimes unfamiliar with it. Making its technical details intelligible to an audience drawn from across the academic disciplines, like the one at the research symposium, can be daunting.
For 175 Chicago-area students, 23 of them from Elmhurst, the symposium is an opportunity to master the art of explaining their work to the uninitiated, the mystified and the eager to learn.
“We have people from all different disciplines coming together to share their research,” said Associate Dean Heather Hall, the symposium’s chairperson. “For students used to speaking in classrooms where everyone is on the same page, this is good practice.”
The prospect of answering questions about their work was enough to make some of the presenters nervous. A few of them retreated, one by one, to isolated corners of the Frick Center to rehearse their presentations. Away from the crowd, they paced and gestured and repeated key phrases until they had them right. Others made the rounds, chatting up other presenters and making plans to exchange ideas.
For some, the event marked a first step into the scholarly spotlight. For those going on to graduate programs, there surely will be more such academic gatherings to follow. To earn an invitation to the event, students submitted an abstract of their presentation. Sixty-nine students presented poster displays like Wendt’s. Another 106 gave oral presentations in classrooms around campus.
A few steps from Wendt’s display, five of Assistant Professor Stacey Raimondi’s biology students were presenting their investigations into the genetic pathways that may trigger the growth of breast cancer cells. Raimondi’s team has been working on the project for two years. “That’s a lot of weekends in the labs, a lot of texts and calls back and forth late at night,” Raimondi said. “I’m really proud of this group. ” The symposium was likely one of their last times together. Most of the group will be graduating this spring, dispersing to various graduate schools. Senior Amy Du surprised Raimondi that morning by mentioning, almost in passing, the news that she had just been accepted into Northwestern University’s epidemiology program.
Research experience has become a must for students who hope to get into the best graduate and medical schools, Raimondi said. And that means not just doing the research, but learning to talk about it, too. In the classrooms where students presented their research Saturday, visitors could fill out evaluation forms, providing feedback to help sharpen presentation skills.
There will be more opportunities to learn. Elmhurst presents its own annual Research and Performance Showcase on May 5. And the College will host the ACCA symposium again in 2012 and 2013.
“You have to do the work,” Raimondi said. “And then you have to show your work off to people.”