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Undergraduate Research Gives Students Competitive Edge

April 29, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Meredith Mohr

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Straightening his tie, senior Austin Pearce stands in front of his poster board, carefully set up amidst a sea of 4,000 other posters. It’s an intimidating sight, but for Pearce, it’s also a familiar one.

As a participant in the Cell Biology Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., this past December, he is no newcomer to the business of being a presenter.

Pearce also has presented at the Sam Houston State University Honors College Undergraduate Research Symposium and has won awards for poster and oral presentations at the regional biology conferences for the American Society of Microbiology.

He cites the knowledge he acquired from undergraduate research as a major factor in his educational experience. More than that, he said, this experience is part of the reason he has been able to participate in prestigious research conferences and be published in The Journal of Chemical Biology and Drug Design.

Other students like Pearce recently had the opportunity to present research on a diverse range of topics that reflect their interests and highlight their academic strengths at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in April. This year, there were more than 100 presenters and more than 250 attendees. The symposium is one of many similar events held on campus that provide undergraduates with the opportunity to present their work.

“The biology department chair recommended undergraduate research since my aspirations are to pursue professional schools,” Pearce said. “He mentioned that it gives students a definite edge over those who are not involved in research when applying to professional schools, especially if you are able to get involved with presentations and publications.”

According to honors program associate director Kimberly Bell, participation in these kinds of conferences allows students to become better equipped for what they will encounter in the real world.

Senior biology major Austin Pearce has presented his research at a number of prestigious conferences across the country.

“Studies conducted by the Council on Undergraduate Research and the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research have shown that undergraduate students who participate in inquiry-based learning are better prepared for the rigors of graduate school, the realities of the workplace, and the duties of responsible citizenship,” Bell said. “The URS is one way to help students get experience in research by presenting their own work and learning from others.”

Undergraduate research also allows students to get a taste of graduate school and beyond in learning the process of researching and presenting, but in an environment that is uniquely a sort of “academic training ground,” students forge relationships with researchers and faculty and expand their own knowledge, according to Bell.

Honors ambassador and Undergraduate Research Symposium co-chair Amanda Howard said pushing herself to do research projects in the English field has opened doors in her academic career and provided her with valuable insight about her plans following graduation.

“Doing research as an undergraduate has helped me in one huge way—it has affirmed that being a professor is exactly what I want to do with my life,” Howard said. “I want to help future minds with undergraduate research and provide a new generation of leaders to the world. I have a feeling, I will promote undergraduate research heavily in the future, and it has come from my participation in the Undergraduate Research Symposium that I feel so strongly about this.”

Following graduation in May, Pearce will begin the yearlong application process for medical schools and will continue going to school. He plans on applying to five Texas medical schools and 11 out-of-state schools for either an M.D. or Ph.D. He said that undergraduate research has been vital in preparing him for this process.

“It (undergraduate research) is a wonderful opportunity that brings you closer to your educational career and shows those around you how willing you are to get engaged in your field of choice,” Pearce said. “Many acceptance committees love to see people who are not just concerned about grades, but those who are also involved in extracurricular activities of some sort.”

With participation numbers increasing from six students the first year the symposium was held to more than 100 this year, Undergraduate Research Symposium co-chair Brittany Disiere said that the traditional idea of research being just for graduate students is being reshaped to include undergraduate students.

“It really gives every student an opportunity to get to that level of education through research that graduate students have,” Disiere said. “We give them the opportunity to do research and attend conferences and present and, as a result, see that they already have that experience when they get to graduate school.”



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