It wasn’t an athletic event that turned heads at Tudor Fieldhouse last Friday, April 13. The 11th-annual Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium was held there as part of the Rice CentennialUnConvention. It featured 230 student presenters, an increase from the 180 last year, according to Chair of RURS, Benjamin Chou. This year’s symposium differed from those held in previous years in the choice of venue, distribution of monetary prizes, and the addition of a new oral presentation option geared toward humanities and social sciences research projects, Chou, a Martel College junior, said. While last year’s symposium took place in the Rice Memorial Center Grand Hall, this year’s RURS was held in TudorFieldhouse from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. to increase the amount of space for presenters and judges, co-coordinator and Martel junior Mayleen Lee said. Faculty judge and Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said this change in location substantially alleviated overcrowding. “It made it easier with the posters more spread out,” Hutchinson, a chemistry professor, said. “I could hear the speakers better. I felt like it was easier to have a conversation.”
Martel sophomore Mika Tabata said she thinks presenting one’s research keeps the research exciting for the student.“Whenever you do something so often, all the jargon becomes normal and to you. It doesn’t seem like that big a deal anymore,” Tabata, a bioengineering major, said. “So it’s nice to have RURS and to talk about your research with someone who doesn’t have the same background as you because you really see how much you’ve learned and accomplished.” This was Tabata’s first year presenting at RURS. She said the symposium was less intimidating than she thought it would be. “Everyone was really friendly. It was a very positive atmosphere,” Tabata said. “I was surprisingly comfortable and focused on having a one-on-one conversation with someone about my research.”
Duncan College junior Tiffany Chen said prior to RURS, the most recent time she had presented research had been senior year of high school. “Since then, I’ve always wanted more experience presenting my research because I’ve spent the last three years working in my lab and not writing things out,” Chen said. “Through the symposium, I learned how to tailor my talk so that people of the general public understand my research.”
In addition to the traditional poster presentation format of previous symposia, humanities and social sciences students could also opt this year to give an eight-minute oral presentation followed by a two-minute question-and-answer session. “We recognized that in order to expand for more [humanities] participation, we would need to be more flexible with the format of competition that students are used to in their fields of study,” Chou said. “In the real world, humanities students would give the same type of oral presentation and judging that they experienced with us on Friday.” All participants were automatically considered for cash prizes. Each project was sorted by school and faculty sponsor and was reviewed by three judges, Caroline Quenemoen, Director of the Office of Fellowships and Undergraduate Research, said. Approximately 165 judges, comprised of faculty members, graduate students and community professionals, up from 100 last year, attended RURS to evaluate the projects based on content and presentation, according to Quenemoen.
Monetary prizes were offered for the top three projects in the humanities, social sciences, engineering and natural sciences, as well as the top three Asian studies projects and sustainability-related projects, the OFUR website stated. Quenemoen said she attributed the increase in student participation and number of judges to the prize offers and expanded format. “The prizes and expanded format increased participation by 30 percent this year, and holding the event over lunch for one hour enabled more faculty and grad students to judge,” Quenemoen said. “It was exciting to have so many people from all disciplines discussing their research in one place. The energy level in Autry Court [in Tudor] was incredible.”
Chou said he was pleased with the turnout. “Our event at Autry Court was packed from noon to 2 p.m.,” Chou said. “We had prospies, their parents andUnConvention tourists who all came in to see what undergraduate research at Rice is like.” Another new initiative taken with this year’s RURS was the publication of students’ abstracts in a book to act as a hard-copy record of the event. Quenemoen said that Rice undergraduates are fortunate to have access to so many research opportunities. “RURS allows students to gain an understanding of all phases of the presentation process and to experience the reward that comes from sharing your research with others,” Quenomoen said.
As a former Century Scholar, Lee agreed that research is a signature aspect of Rice. “I believe that conducting independent research projects as undergrads is something that makes many Rice students stand out,” Lee said. “RURS not only serves as a platform for students to present their research findings to the academic community in Houston, but also provides young researchers the opportunity to discuss cutting-edge research topics and build important connections with prominent professors and researchers in the fields.” Quenomoen said improvements that could be made for next year’s RURS include recruiting more volunteers and implementing a more efficient score-entry system. Lee said other concerns included last-minute poster submissions and the need for increased publicity. Brown College sophomore Nick Uhm said he did not know when the event took place and that the timing could have been more convenient. “I wouldn’t put something like this Friday afternoon,” Uhm said. “People still have labs [and] classes. I would have preferred it closer to or after dinner.” Hutchinson said he hoped to see greater student attendance in future years from those not participating in RURS.