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More than posters: symposium engages humanities and STEM

October 27, 2017

Today, at the second annual President’s Research Symposium, over 100 students will present research across the fields of STEM, the humanities and social sciences. Last year’s symposium was the first to include research beyond STEM fields, and about 40 percent of this year’s research projects are non-STEM, according to Professor of Chemistry Michael Danahy, the coordinator for the event.

The change in represented fields opens the symposium to a variety of subjects and media, showcasing the range of Bowdoin students’ interests.

“It is the perfect representation of Bowdoin and what Bowdoin students do,” said Sophie DeBruijn ’18, who is presenting a project on the history of women in comedy in the United States. “Many people across campus are doing research across disciplines so it makes sense that people not focused on STEM would also have the opportunity to share what they are interested in with everyone.”

In addition to opening the symposium to all disciplines, the requirement of presenting on a poster has been eliminated. DeBruijn’s presentation is a multimedia humanities project. For her, the old way of showing research on a poster lacked the experience she wanted attendees to have. She plans to give her viewers a new way to engage with research by showing videos of female comedians.

“Posters is the old way of thinking about it, because, as I understand it, this year we are going to see more media and performance to engage, which is incredibly cool,” said President Clayton Rose, who decided last year to expand the symposium. Previously, under former President Barry Mills, the symposium only featured STEM research.

While also encouraging the humanities, the symposium has still retained its value as a place for STEM students to showcase their work.

Sophia Conwell ’18 is presenting a two-year research project on mimicking proteins in the human body. Her research focuses on a specific protein that is thought to be involved in Alzheimer’s and cancer. If she succeeds in mimicking the protein’s shape, her research could help in broadening the understanding of the diseases.

While she is eager to show students and parents her work, the opportunity to share knowledge with faculty is particularly exciting for her.

“It’s fun sharing what I am most interested in, in the same way they shared with me what they are most passionate about,” Conwell said.

To help facilitate the delivery of these presentations, some digitalization has been brought into this year’s symposium. Now, from the Bowdoin College app, attendees can download the family weekend guide to preview the abstracts from each presentation, allowing people to familiarize themselves with students’ research ahead of time.

According to Danahy, there will also be kiosks set up at the symposium with iPads so attendees can also view the abstracts on-the-spot.

Held over Family Weekend, the symposium is a perfect way to show faculty, fellow students and family what research looks like here at Bowdoin, said Danahy.

Many students that are presenting stayed over the summer at Bowdoin to conduct their research. These studies can be self-directed with minimal oversight, sometimes only checking in with a faculty member as little as once a week. These opportunities for living at Bowdoin and doing independent research provide eye-opening experiences for many students.

“It was really great. It changes your perspective on campus and on Maine to be here over the summer,” DeBruijn said.

To help with the cost of living over the summer, students can receive one of several possible fellowships and grants that usually provide summer housing.

Students’ research that will be on display also comes from experiences elsewhere. Hyungyu Lee ’19 will be presenting his research from this past summer, when he participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation at Vanderbilt University. Working in the field of organic chemistry, Lee tried to come up with new methods to synthesize new types of organic molecules that could be employed to make new drugs.

“In terms of research techniques and research knowledge I definitely learned a lot. It was a good experience,”  Lee said.

This year’s symposium aims to encourage those not typically involved in this event to come and explore the research presented across disciplines. Of 962 Bowdoin students who had declared majors in fall 2016, there were 295 humanities and fine arts majors and 472 social and behavioral science majors, including double-majors.

“If you are not a STEM person it can be intimidating to attend a presentation, if you are not literate in that realm,” said DeBrujin. “If you can find a little bit of anything and find something that interests you, it might open up the audience.”

The second annual President’s Research Symposium will run this afternoon from 1:45 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Morrell Gym.

David Zhou contributed to this report.

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