Last Saturday, several Trinity students presented their research at the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium (GCURS), which is an annual research conference at Rice University with 10 sections ranging from bioengineering to physics and astronomy.
Presentations were featured from students representing institutions across the globe as well as keynote addresses from prominent researchers.
Dany Munoz-Pinto, assistant professor of engineering science, attended the conference to support one of his student researchers. Munoz- Pinto feels that conferences like GCURS help students break out of the ‘Trinity bubble.’
“At a certain point, you believe the only things happening are happening at your school, and it’s important to recognize that there is a world outside. These types of events are good opportunities for students to see what is happening in other institutions, and also to share the quality of the research that we are doing at Trinity,” Munoz-Pinto said.
Hailey Taylor, a junior chemistry major, was impressed by research presented by students from other institutions.
“I really enjoyed the conference because I was able to hear about all of the cool research projects students were working on at different universities,” Taylor said.
In addition to interacting with fellow undergraduates from around the world, the day included multiple opportunities for connections with graduate students and faculty from Rice University.
“The moderators, who were Rice chemistry faculty, asked good questions and had even offered suggestions and recommendations for the students’ projects,” Taylor said.
“Conferences are an excellent experience to connect with the scientific community outside of Trinity,” said Jonathan Palmer, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major.
Taylor added that in addition to learning about new and developing research, the conference was an opportunity to network.
“Research conferences are very important to go to because you are able to not only see all the other research that people do, but the people that you do meet, you will most likely see again. This helps you make connections with others who might help you out at some point in your research career,” Taylor said.
After completing an undergraduate degree, students face a choice between continuing their education in graduate school or entering their chosen industry.
Research helps forge connections with possible collaborators and gives students a better idea of which path is best for them, according to Munoz-Pinto.
“Research is a great opportunity for the undergraduate student to consider two options after graduation: Continuing in academia in a graduate program or going into industry, and research is equally useful for both,” Munoz-Pinto said.
“If the student decides to go into the industry, research is considered hands-on experience, where the student is actually facing a real problem — it’s a problem that is not in a book — it’s a problem that exists in real life. If the student decides to continue into a Ph.D. program or a master’s program, research is a good opportunity for them to polish their skills needed in the lab.”
Rachel Van Drunen, a senior neuroscience major and Munoz-Pinto’s research mentee, appreciated the opportunity to polish her public speaking skills.
“I think it gives a really good experience of practicing your oral skills and relaying information on your research, because sometimes you know what you’re doing but if you can’t explain it well, the public doesn’t understand what you’re doing. It’s important to be able to explain your research,” Drunen said.
The experience from conferences like GCURS is a unique addition to being in a lab.
“It’s been really great and it gives me one-on-one interaction with the professor. I’ve worked in other research labs, but it’s not as one-on-one with the PI, and you learn a lot more that way,” Drunen continued.
Given the relevance of scientific issues to many public health and environmental policy debates, clear communication of research results is increasingly important.
“I think that one of the big issues that the scientific community has is being able to communicate scientific developments accurately to the rest of the public. So, being able to learn what makes a scientific presentation engaging and easy to understand is an important skill that anyone in a scientific field should learn. Attending this conference gave me a firm grasp on that skill,” Palmer said.
GCURS is held annually and is open to the public. More information can be found at gcurs.rice.edu.