Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer
The annual Berry Symposium on Student Scholarship will take place on Tuesday. It will include in-person oral presentations with a Zoom option for virtual participation as well as a synchronous virtual option for all research posters presented.
The event is a chance for student researchers to present the efforts of their work to their parents and peers, as well as Berry staff and faculty, explained Lindsey Davis, director of the office of undergraduate research.
Usually, the event is all in-person, with classes cancelled for the day to allow people the opportunity to watch the various research presentations in Krannert and look at posters at their leisure in the Cage Athletic Center. However, due to COVID-19, Zoom is being given for presentations and the posters are all virtual.
“It’s very busy [in the Cage and] there are lots of people gathered closely together and you can’t hear very well, so you’re really close to each other, and I can’t imagine with masks [we could do it] and there’s no way we could do social distancing,” Davis said.
The poster session will be presented synchronously over a free, online program called GatherTown (https://gather. town/). Davis explained that participants will be brought into a virtual world that looks like a hotel conference hall. Everyone at the event will be able to create their own avatars and be able to walk around the hall, going up to separate posters, where they can interact with poster presenters. The interaction of avatars will open up the participants’ webcams so that they can talk to each other through their webcams and microphones. Davis hopes that this will allow the event to keep its sense of human interaction known at the Symposium.
“I hope it’s a cool way for us to do something virtual that is still going to feel like it has community to it,” Davis said.
More detailed information on the event and how it will operate will come in an email on Thursday from the office of undergraduate research before the Symposium, including how students can join GatherTown for the event.
For Davis, the biggest challenge in preparing for the Symposium this year has not only been learning how to implement the virtual portion of the poster presentations, but also the change into a paperless application process. All applications were turned into SharePoint, which suffered a shutdown the day that the revision and resubmit of applications were due.
Another issue from this year is that due to COVID-19 and related fatigue, the number of Symposium participants is lower than past events over the twenty years that Symposium has been going on.
“If we look at the 2019 numbers, I’d say the number of participants is about half of that, so we’re probably at what we were at [in] 2014, 2015 somewhere in there, so it’s not bad,” Davis said. “Some of the students and their mentors, it’s like, ‘yeah you did research, but we just can’t this year’ I wish that it was easier, but you have to put a poster together, you have to put a presentation together, it takes time, and when it’s not a requirement, it’s, like, something’s gotta go, so I don’t blame anybody for just taking a step away for the year, but hopefully we’ll come back again next year and back to our pre-pandemic numbers.”
Davis is hopeful, however, that the virtual element of the poster session will influence students who wouldn’t normally go to Symposium to spend some time participating.
“I think some students that might not normally go to symposium, I’m hoping that they will go because they can literally go in their pajamas and they can see some of their friends’ talk,” Davis said.
Davis added that it’s important for students to participate either at Symposium or with research itself because research can be done in any field or discipline and provide a wealth of knowledge to those doing research and those who learn about it.
“Any major, any discipline is welcome, and this is one thing that I think is really important to focus on,” Davis said. “We use the word research, but the way we do research looks different in different disciplines but it’s still research. It looks a little bit different, but either way, every discipline, no matter what the discipline is, there is research in that field and students can be a part of it. And I think that’s a really exciting thing, that it doesn’t matter your major, this is something that unifies us, that we can ask questions in our discipline and we can search for answers, and we can create new things and students can be a part of that.”
Davis asks that students curious about doing research, regardless of the topic or area of learning, ask faculty about research and if students can participate in it. She added that if anyone needs help, they can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or the office of undergraduate research at email@example.com, where students can be connected with faculty doing research in that field of study.