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Last week, I had the privilege and pleasure of judging undergraduate research posters at the culminating formal poster session of SURE at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Program) is Emory's summer program that places undergraduate students in a research lab in the Emory system so that these students may gain exposure to conducting research with an Emory faculty mentor for 10 weeks during the summer. I've been to a lot of poster sessions as a presenter--my first one in 4th grade with my clay volcano eruption demo with vinegar & baking soda, to the high school science fair circuits in Los Angeles County and California State Science Fairs, to my pharmaceutical internship summer symposium poster, to numerous master's and undergraduate poster sessions for conferences such as annual meetings of the ESA (Ecological Society of America) and ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students)--however, this day in Atlanta marked my first time being a poster judge.
Upon arrival, Program Director Dr. Molly Embree asked the 17 judges to divide ourselves among groups for three with two judges as floaters. Floating judges would step in, in case a judge has conflicting interest judging a poster (perhaps the student has worked in the judge's lab); floaters may also judge as many posters as they wish. Each judging group visited 16 posters total for the whole day, allocating about 15 minutes to each poster. The judges ranged from Emory Ph.D. students to post-doctoral fellows ("post-docs") to faculty members to Emory system scientists. I had a privilege of working with Sherry Adesina, a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular and Systems Pharmacology Graduate Program in Emory's Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (GDBBS), and Dr. Karl Pendergrass, a post-doc in the Division of Cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine. Aside from loving all of the students' enthusiasm about their projects, I enjoyed judging because my judge partners were very intelligent, engaging, and fun to work with. I definitely look up to them with admiration and hope to follow in their personal and career successes. I also noticed that the judging pool was very diverse, especially with women and people of color. I became happy that I found people who resemble me and share some of my background, pursuing similar things in other departments at Emory. The judging opportunity somehow boosted some school spirit in me. I hope that Emory continues and brings in even more gender and ethnic diversity in both their faculty and student demographics, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)-related fields.
As far as judging the actual posters went, my colleagues and I finished the day feeling pleased, if not impressed, with the students' level of professionalism and commitment this summer for their projects. Some of the posters that we judged ranged in topics from investigating mitochondrial DNA methylation (something of interest in epigenetic studies), to engineering semiconductor nanocrystals, to neuro-behavioral responses of dads to how cute infants are, etc. Research was conducted under the guidance of faculty mentors in academic departments at Emory, as well as research centers in the Emory healthcare and research system facilities. The students hailed from across the country, including the host institution Emory, nearby Spelman College and Georgia Tech, and farther places, such as Vanderbilt and California State University, Northridge. Overall, the students performed well and a few did an excellent job according to the following evaluation criteria:
I. Technical: legibility, materials, overall visual appeal
II. Content: title, authors, abstract, introduction, methods, results, tables & figures, conclusions/future directions, acknowledgements/funding attributions
III. Oral presentation: student was available to present the poster, student's grasp/understanding of material, student engaged the audience
After the poster symposium, we went to an awards ceremony banquet with amazing refreshments (ranch chicken, Swedish meatballs, eggplant lasagna, ice cream, veggies, cheese, etc.):
If you are an undergraduate who would like to gain hands-on research exposure during the summer, I highly recommend that you apply to SURE, which is funded primarily by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Here is more info about SURE:
Location: Emory University, Atlanta, GA
Duration: 10 weeks during the summer
Award includes: $3,500 stipend (updated annually) & paid campus housing
Research areas: Biology & Biomedical Science, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics & Computer Science, Anthropology, Psychology, & Environmental Studies
Application due: Early February each year
Training: research methods, data analysis, research poster presentation, weekly seminars on grad school admissions, science careers, and research ethics
Targets: undergraduate sophomores, juniors, and seniors majoring in science-related fields
"Women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities are highly encouraged to apply."
Contact: Molly Embree, PhD (SURE Program Director)
Center for Science Education, Emory University
1339 Oxford Road, Atlanta, GA 30322