On September 25 and 26, Mt. A held its annual Summer Undergraduate Research Fair (SURF), Coronavirus style.
SURF is an interdisciplinary conference, where undergraduate Mount Allison students are given a platform to present the research they worked on over the summer. This year, for the first time in the event’s history, it was held digitally over Zoom.
“We tried out many many many different platforms,” SURF organizer and presenter Caitlyn O’Connor said in an interview, “but we settled on Zoom in September because it tends to be pretty reliable, and is easily accessible.” She continued, “Accessibility was something that we were really concerned with this year, with the pandemic and all.”
For the conference to be hosted on Zoom, presenters submitted a single slide encapsulating their work, along with a 3 minute video presentation to be played alongside, a format change from previous years where presenters were given 10 minutes to share their research projects. The conference was set up so that 3 researchers’ videos were presented in a row, followed by a 5 minute audience question period, conducted through the zoom chat function.
Spencer Keller, a third year physics student and first time SURF presenter, enjoyed the experience of SURF this year. “I do prefer face to face, person to person interaction, and I’m very picky about recording myself. I probably took about 50 takes, and ended up with something I thought was just mediocre. It was kind of a double edged sword though,” he continued, “it is frustrating to record a video that is 3 minutes long, but I found it really enjoyable to watch a ‘spark notes’ of everyone’s research.”
“My favorite part of the conference [was] the engaging questions asked by peers wanting to learn more about the research conducted at Mount Allison,” said first-time presenter Lia Massoeurs. Massoeurs, like Keller, would have preferred an in-person conference. “I would have preferred in person, so that I could connect more with the crowd, and actively show the other presenters I was listening and interested in their work.” Massoeurs spent her summer in the Litvak Lab, doing research with shortnose sturgeon.
The conference went off without a hitch, a huge win in the eyes of organizers, who began planning the event quite late, having their first meeting at the end of July. “Good on the organizers for making-do with so little. They kept everyone informed super well, and I hope that’s something they keep doing in the future,” Keller said, “the really good communication to presenters right up until the conference.”
“It was definitely a lot of work to get SURF going this year,” O’Connor said, “but we are happy with the results! I want to thank the Office of Research Services for making SURF possible. This event provided students with an opportunity to develop skills in communicating their finds to the public, which is an integral part of research. It also provided space to learn about new topics and engage in interdisciplinary conversations.”