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Science students present their discoveries at two major conferences

by Linda Lenhoff,

Willamette undergraduate science students not only have the opportunity to work on their own original research, they get an extra leg up on the competition by learning how to present their research at major conferences around the country.

They recently did just that at the Murdock College Science Research Conference, followed by the Cascadia-Prairie Oak Partnership Conference, both held last November in Vancouver, Washington.

Professor David Craig and attendees of the Murdock Conference.
Professor David Craig and attendees of the Murdock Conference.

Professor of Biology and Co-Director of Willamette’s Science Collaborative Research Program David Craig supported the students both throughout their research and while making their debut conference appearances. He likens the event to a “regional track meet” for science students. “The Murdock Conference is transformative for many students as it’s often the first external conference that they present research at. The atmosphere is positive with an emphasis on how important it is to practice science as a young person.” Twenty-four students enjoyed participating in the conference.

Public health major Jackie Gilroy BA ’23 is just one of the students who found the conference transformative. “The Murdock Conference was so special for me because I got to be in an intellectually stimulating environment and learn from the incredible research that other students at different schools have done.” Gilroy hopes to pursue a career in cancer research/public health. “Presenting on the cancer research I conducted was a great first step for my career,” she added.

Craig describes the benefits to students somewhat, well, scientifically: “Let's say you're a particular kind of student researcher at one university, studying problems of physical chemistry as it relates to phase shift in one set of lipid molecules. You're going to be the only person you know studying this, and then you go to this conference where there's 405 other undergraduates, all doing research on different topics. You'll find that somebody else is doing physical chemistry on something very similar. That's a very affirming and compelling thing that you can go talk to your peers.”

Or to sum up: “It’s another place that students can get exposure to new ideas and new kinds of potential.”

Julia Maxwell BA ’23, Dr. Karen McFarlane Holman, and Jackie Gilroy BA ’23 at the Murdock Conference.

The Cascadia-Prairie Oak Partnership Conference allowed another set of students to participate and learn. Eight students, an alum, and two professors contributed, including: Kaiona Apio BA ’23, Emelia Sherman BA ’22, Maddy Specht BA ’22, Blake Carlisle BA ’22, Angelina Wang BA ’22, Grace Shiffrin BS ’22, Isabella Stone BS ’23, Sophia Rosenburg BS ’24, Erica Henry BA ’01, and Continuing Instructor of Biology Briana Lindh and Craig. The conference focused on “Oak and Prairie Conservation at a Crossroads: Setting a Path for Success” and examined how the conservation community is restoring and preserving prairie-oak habitats.

Students presented their original research from Willamette’s Science Collaborative Research Program, where 20 to 50 students work with faculty in the natural sciences on a nine-week project—and receive a stipend.

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