In a small room on the third floor of Brace Hall, undergraduate students Sydney Houser and Amy Hruby prepared to give presentations to a worldwide audience. While it was a Monday night in Nebraska, it was already 11 a.m. the next day in Monash Australia, where the moderator for the International Conference for Undergraduate Research was stationed.
“It was exciting,” Hruby said. “Any opportunity I can get to talk about my lab’s research is an opportunity I will take! I am passionate about the work I do, and it was humbling to have it so well received, and to get so many good follow-up questions afterwards.”
The conference, as also known as ICUR, is conducted for 48 hours, across five continents with fourteen participating institutions. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln was in the first round of presentations to kick off the conference on Sept. 27 and ended around noon on Sept. 29.
Overall, twenty-eight Husker students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, gave live, ten-minute presentations and nine students would have recorded poster sessions available for registrants to view.
“I heard about ICUR through my involvement in UCARE [Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience],” Jessica Stump, an ICUR presenter and UNL junior, said. “Presenting to an international audience was one of the most unique experiences of my undergraduate career to date. I enjoyed hearing presentations from fellow panelists and was fascinated by the different perspectives they bring to the field of social and behavioral science.”
Last year was the first time that UNL participated in ICUR, making it the first institution in the United States to do so. The program made its way to Nebraska after Nick Monk, director of the Center for Transformative Teaching, championed for its inauguration.
“ICUR allows our students to have an international experience without travel,” Monk said. "This is a tremendous benefit at a time when opportunities for long-distance travel are severely limited. Students can use ICUR to practice their presentation and research skills, at an event managed by other undergraduates, where they have the freedom to hone their skills in a supportive environment.”
The conference has a dozen categories students can submit their research under including health and wellbeing, food, water and the environment, gender and social inequity, global challenges and sustainability.
“I was amazed as the broad spectrum of research the students showcased,” Molly Mayhew, communications coordinator for the CTT and ICUR organizer, said. “The student’s research could greatly benefit the people of Nebraska along with so many other states and countries.”
Similar to any conference, the students had to distill months, and sometimes years, of research down to minutes. As this conference was international, Huskers were posed with new challenges.
“Knowing that the audience is from a diverse cultural and educational background made me adjust the language of the talk which was a novel experience and helped me become more inclusive in my speech,” Himani Patel, an ICUR presenter and UNL senior, said. “Also, doing research is just half of the work; the other half is to communicate the findings in an effective manner. I learned the importance of effective science communication.”
“It was very thrilling even if it was a little nerve-wracking!” Noha Algahimi, an ICUR presenter and UNL senior, said. “Having people all the way in Australia on my panel of peer presenters really opened my eyes to how wide my audience would be and how many different perspectives I would be privy to.”
Students also benefited from audience questions at the end of their presentations.
“The biggest thing for me was that when I did this research I didn’t think about the future. I was more interested in providing recommendations to farmers by looking at my results and conclusions,” Mark Iradukunda, ICUR presenter and UNL senior, said. “However, after my session, I was asked ‘If you had to repeat the presentation, what would you do different? What other nutrients would you study?’ I had not thought about that question, and it struck me. As a result, I will always think about the future while I am doing my research. There are always next steps and being reminded of that was a great lesson.”
While the undergraduates did the bulk of the research that was presented on, they were also quick to acknowledge the dedicated efforts from their faculty and university mentors.
“I would like to give a special thanks to Dr. [Kristi] Montooth and Dr. [Megan] Kobiela for not only making this opportunity happen, but also for supporting me through my research every step of the way,” Alexus Hansen said. “I couldn’t have done it without their amazing guidance and their belief in me."
For those students who are not sure about submitting research for future conferences, the presenters overwhelmingly echoed the same advice – go for it.
“Never be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone,” Kaitlyn Dozler, an ICUR presenter and UNL senior, said. “I never imagined myself doing research when I came to college and it has turned into a vital aspect of my college experience that is going to help shape my future.”
Faculty are encouraged to have students apply for ICUR 2022 when the submission process opens sometime in March of next year. Those interested in learning more about this year's presentations and ICUR can visit teaching.unl.edu/icur.