Presbyterian College Students Share Research While Miles and Miles Apart

Presbyterian College students pose for a group photo after their virtual summer research symposium.

Presbyterian College students pose for a group photo after their virtual summer research symposium.

Presbyterian College’s Summer Research Symposium typically takes place in Harrington-Peachtree Academic Center (HP) and the James H. Thomason Library.

Some students present their summer research findings to a crowd of fellow students and professors in HP before others deliver poster presentations in the library.

But this year was different. Students conducted research from home and shared their findings virtually. Although miles apart (one student was at home in Germany), they all convened via videoconferencing during the Summer Research Symposium on Wednesday, July 29.

Undergraduate Research Away from Campus
"I am pleased to see how much the students have achieved in these eight weeks," said Dr. Payal Ray, biology professor and director of the Summer Research Symposium.

For rising seniors, like Briana Cody and Hyland Gonzalez, this summer was one of the last opportunities to conduct and present research. For others, like Noah Burkett, this summer was a chance to conduct research before their plates get too full.

"We know that one of the key aspects of research is dissemination of findings, and this symposium is a means to that end," Ray said.

Adjusting to a Virtual Format
Since science-related research is so hands-on, Ray wasn't sure how much progress students would make while conducting research virtually. But adjusting to a virtual format presented learning opportunities that she didn't anticipate.

"Moving to a remote format necessitated some changes in the original proposals," Ray said. "I took this as an opportunity for students to think on their feet, which all did extraordinarily well."

Ray advised Jess Escobar as she conducted research on regulation of gene expression. When the decision was made to research remotely, the two thought about how to use computational biology to inform experiments that they'll conduct this fall. The findings from this summer’s research have supported the proposed Fall research.

"We learn best when we teach"
"We got to learn a lot of new things that we hadn't anticipated learning when we wrote the summer proposal," Ray said.

"Even if a student did not complete all the research that they had proposed or anticipated completing over summer, just the process of explaining their project, objectives, methods and how and why they proceeded the way they did - helped develop analytical skills."

According to Ray, presenting research, like students did during the symposium, was itself a learning opportunity.

"When the students presented their research, they basically taught the audience something that the latter doesn't know," Ray said. "We learn best when we teach. When students presented their work, they gained an even better understanding of the field and their own research."

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