By Nicole George
“The balloons were a very intentional decoration,” explained OSE Director Marcy Slapcoff during her welcoming remarks at the Undergraduate Poster Showcase on February 11, 2020. “This is a celebration. It’s a celebration of inquiry, a celebration of student engagement in learning, of faculty engagement in learning, and just the complete undergraduate experience and the community we are all a part of at McGill.”
As the opening event for Academia Week 2020, the Showcase allowed undergraduate students to share their work from summer research awards, class assignments, independent thesis projects and volunteer work. For many students, this was their first time presenting their work.
Noelia Azalde was among those presenting a poster for the first time. She described, “I think putting it in a poster makes your research so real. You get to see your results, and it’s really nice to try to communicate and try to make other people understand why your work is so important.”
It was uplifting to hear how meaningful the event was to the student presenters. Many expressed that they were initially nervous to present, not sure how to condense their findings into a poster or if their projects were even complete enough to share. It was clear these concerns were considered in the organization of the event, through the collaborative co-design approach that valued student voices.
Undergraduates were able to attend poster development workshops for guidance on their poster designs, and the event was designed to be judgment free, with no competition for top research prizes. Nearly every student I spoke with emphasized how much they appreciated not being evaluated.
The response from those attending the showcase was affirmation of the quality of the students’ work.
“I was vastly impressed by the calibre of the undergraduate student poster presentations. The research carried out was very involved, scientifically advanced [and yet] the students provided clear, concise descriptions highlighting their understanding and knowledge of their research – as well as their enthusiasm,” said Sophie-Dorothée Clas (BSc'80, PhD'85), principal of PharmaSolv Consulting.
“The posters were of a quality and level indistinguishable from the research and posters presented at scientific conferences. I really enjoyed speaking with the students about their research and their future projects.”
Nuha Anver Mohamed Rizan described how she was excited and proud to have an opportunity to invite her friends and lab members see her present her research. “I like the fact that they made us the stars of the show,” she explained.
The variety of topics presented (including climate change, gut bacteria, and artificial intelligence) allowed students to learn about student work beyond their current lab or project. Students were thrilled to discuss ideas with undergraduate students from different departments, as well as the invited faculty, alumni, and graduate student mentors.
“It means a lot, because I’m able to talk to so many different professors and students,” said Laura (Xiang Qi) Meng. “I’m able to talk about what I’m passionate about, and also get their ideas and their feedback, too.”
The Poster Showcase was a rewarding event that emphasized the importance of inquiry in undergraduate learning. Speaking about his involvement in the Showcase, student Robert Kidd said, “It’s definitely given me a new appreciation for what I learned in class, not everything is just memorize this or answer a question on a test. You can go beyond that; you can ask questions about what you learned, think about what we don’t know and how we get to greater knowledge from that.”
The Undergraduate Poster Showcase was a great addition to this year’s Academia Week, providing students with an opportunity to share their work and engage with their McGill community.