Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research, held at the University of Sheffield. It was a great day, full of lots of interesting research and engaging presentations. I was excited to make my conference debut; something I didn’t expect to ever happen!
The British Conference of Undergraduate Research is now in its 7 year. It brings together undergraduates from across the UK to share their research and is held at a different university each year. I found it a great opportunity to meet students from different institutions and academic backgrounds and hear about their specialised undergraduate research.
Last summer, I completed an undergraduate research project in the astrophysics department here. It was jointly funded by the URSS (Undergraduate Research Support Scheme) at Warwick and the RAS (Royal Astronomical Society) which allowed me to spend 8 weeks of my holiday working with my supervisor on a research project. The whole experience was interesting and enlightening. I blogged throughout my project, so please have a read if you are interested in doing one yourself! Alternatively, drop me a comment below.
I heard about BCUR through ICUR, the International Conference of Undergraduate Research. Warwick is a host of ICUR, and last year my undergraduate research poster was displayed there. When I heard about the opportunity of doing an oral presentation at BCUR, I jumped at the chance! I had already presented my research to other physics students over the summer and had found it a fun challenge to communicate what I did. Therefore, I was interested to try and present to a more diverse, interdisciplinary audience like at BCUR.
The conference took place over two days, but I only attended the final day. After picking up my conference bag (with a lovely pen, notepad and water bottle inside!) I attended the opening plenary. The keynote speaker spoke to us about the value of doing undergraduate research. I thought it was particularly interesting how he said that with the increased use of the internet to find the answers to questions, knowledge was now becoming a commodity. Subsequently, research is important is to develop skills like communication, creativity and problem solving. Such skills are highly prized by employers and are not always fully nurtured through academic study.
After the plenary, I attended several presentations, with topics including leukaemia treatments, the Crusades and hoverfly migration. Funnily enough, none of the talks I went to were maths or physics based, but that didn’t mean I didn’t get a lot out of them. I found it completely fascinating to learn about things I haven’t studied, and in some cases had never even heard of! The presenters were clear and succinct, and I could understand what their research was about.
During the lunch break I had a meander through the poster display and was again struck by how diverse and important everybody’s research was. Seeing posters from forensic science students next to research from physicists, zoologists, linguistics students and medics was the best collection of work from different backgrounds I have ever seen.
When I saw that my slot was last presentation in the last session of the day, I was a little worried that no-one would still be around to listen to it! Fortunately, there were still some hardy conference delegates around and at least 20 people came to the session. My aim was to make my research as engaging and understandable to everyone as possible. To do this, I cut out a lot of the technical details and focussed on communicating my main results and conclusions. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my research and enthusiasm, and especially enjoyed answering questions and talking to audience members individually afterwards.
The whole BCUR experience was brilliant, from the smooth organisation, cracking conference bag to the inspiring students who had done an undergraduate research project. I met some great people, and it was an amazing opportunity to gain experience in presenting and networking at a large event. Presenting at a conference wasn’t something I thought I would ever do. It just goes to show how saying yes to unexpected offers is the best way to do exciting things!