During my freshman year of college I had the privilege of experiencing many great things: lectures by world renowned intellectuals, an interactive performance arts piece composed of thirty plays in sixty minutes, and (among many others) a theater production based on binary code. Yet, I can say, without a doubt, that the most transformative experience was traveling to The National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) with my peers to present our respective research projects. After dedicating a significant portion of my year to research, having the opportunity to share my work with both my colleagues at the University of Michigan and at universities across the nation was truly rewarding.
Immediately after arriving at the conference, we attended a beautiful opening plenary that described the positive impact research experience has on students from all backgrounds. This prompted me to reflect on how fortunate I am to have gotten involved in research as a freshman. Many students that I spoke to at the conference were rising seniors or had recently graduated, and NCUR was the capstone, for some, to their research careers. On the other hand, my Michigan peers were mostly other first year students just beginning their research careers, which allowed the conference to have a more lasting impression personally and professionally. I believe such a strong showing of underclassman by the University of Michigan can be attributed to the presence and success of the Michigan Research Community and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program on our campus.
As a young professional I am still learning the art of networking and actively strive towards continued professional development. Presenting a fifteen-minute oral presentation followed by a Q&A session was a wonderful method of honing both of those skills since the oral presentations were grouped together based on similarities in topic. I was able to hear from other students doing medical imaging research and understand their methods as well as motives. Often times, I find that it is difficult to understand the details of research outside of my field of study because of the specific background that is necessary. It was very enjoyable to share basic common knowledge with the other presenters and be able to thoughtfully consider each others research. Additionally, after the session ended I was able to have lunch with a student fellow presenter who was planning to matriculate to medical school in the fall and a faculty member who came to hear my presentation. Throughout the conference I met many students who shared my passion for medicine and medical research which spurred excellent conversation.
Although meeting others in my field of study was wonderful, I also was able to discuss research my peers across the country were doing in a variety of fields. During one of the poster sessions I listened to presentations on pure mathematics, biochemistry, philosophy, and quantum physics -- all in a one-hour time frame! Leaving me awestruck and inspired the poster sessions were the highlight of the conference for me.
From the dorm chatter that swelled in the hallways during the weeks prior to our departure to the shared enthusiasm that our group possessed during the conference to the quiet plane ride home (we were all asleep from exhaustion), NCUR could not have been a better experience. I am overwhelming grateful for this opportunity.