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“The show must go on!”: Undergraduate Poster Showcase brings students to the virtual stage

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Published: 21Apr2021

McGill Science student Catherine Wang attended the Faculty of Science’s Undergraduate Poster Showcase to support her peers. Here, she shares her impressions of the event.

As McGill University marks its bicentennial anniversary, students, staff, and alumni are coming together, not only to celebrate our past achievements and reflect on the milestones that have shaped our community, but also to embrace the challenges and opportunities that our next century will bring. In that spirit, the Undergraduate Poster Showcase celebrated a group that will undoubtedly have a defining role in McGill’s future — the students.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier set the stage with her opening remarks: “You are the people who will shape the world, and you will certainly shape the third century of McGill.”

The second annual Undergraduate Poster Showcase allowed students to present their scientific research, in-class assignments and passion projects in the form of five-minute poster presentations. Organized by the Office of Science Education (OSE), this event was geared to Science students, but open to everyone. This year, the Showcase was adapted to be presented virtually on Zoom.

The Showcase put the spotlight on the students. As Kira Smith (Student Engagement Officer for the OSE) put it: “Your participation and presence here today are really a testament to your intellectual curiosity, your work ethic and the resilience of our community.”

In the months leading up to the event, each undergraduate presenter was matched to an alumni mentor. These mentors provided feedback on the research posters and presentations through coaching sessions. Their expertise as McGill graduates was vital in helping refine and strengthen the presenters’ research.

The turnout was nearly double that of last year’s, with 75 presenters, 80 alumni mentors and a total attendance of almost 400 people. The Showcase featured students from numerous departments, whose research topics ranged all the way from male guppies and their evolutionary histories to the development of new courses and teaching strategies.

The event was organized into eight breakout rooms, each representing a ‘stage’, as depicted in the event program by architecture student, Tristan Sito. The presentations were organized into two rounds, with four students presenting in each, followed by a question-and-answer period. This highly interactive use of Zoom would not have been possible without the help of numerous volunteers from across the University and a large technology support team from Teaching & Learning Services. On the night, the Showcase ran with seamless transitions — from presenter to presenter and from room to room — thanks to Kira’s top-notch Zoom choreography.

What impressed us as audience members was the remarkable quality of work presented. “What I saw today was indistinguishable from what you see at an international research conference”, said Bruce Lennox, Dean of the Faculty of Science. “There is so much that has been invented, discovered and explored in all of these topics by students!”

Most presenters agreed that the biggest challenge was condensing their findings into the available time.

“Keeping it to five minutes is so hard when you are so passionate!” said Shaz Kassimali, a U3 anatomy and cell biology student.

“I had to combine my whole paper from last summer into one poster,” echoed U3 physiology student, Mégane Pépin.

Benjamin Rudski, a U3 computer science and biology student, added that the condensed format of the presentation pushed him to “keep an eye on the big picture, especially since it is so easy to get caught in the details.” All three agreed that this opportunity allowed them to celebrate their work, while improving their presentation skills.

U3 microbiology and immunology student, William Zhang said that he appreciated having a poster to keep for years to come: “Without this, I wouldn’t have a summary of all the work I’ve done to date.”

Following the presentations, there was an aura of excitement in air. Among the kind words, follow-up questions, “thank-yous”, and congratulations flooding the chat, Perri Wiatrack (BA&Sc 2020) shared her perspective as a mentor, saying, "It was really gratifying to see how poignant everyone’s interests are and how people are just so inclined to find creative solutions when in undergrad. [This] is so valuable and shows dedication to the field.” Wiatrack added that the event was a great opportunity for students interested in graduate studies.

Another mentor, Sibat Anam (BSC 2017, MSc 2019) agreed: “Seeing these students take on a project and present their work in this format gives me an immense sense of pride.”

“The Undergraduate Poster Showcase is emerging as the flagship activity for the OSE as it embraces the principles of learning, collaboration, inquiry,” explained OSE director Marcy Slapcoff as the Showcase came to a close. With 10 students from faculties other than Science featured this year, the goal is to engage the entire McGill community to come and celebrate the work of undergraduates for years to come.

To learn more about the presenters’ research, view their posters here.

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