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UNCA prepares for the Undergraduate Research Symposium

Caitlin Doherty
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Students across all majors and minors at UNC Asheville spend months pulling all-nighters, conducting research, practicing presentations and creating posters preparing for this one day — the Undergraduate Research Symposium.
“Students across all disciplines present their research, scholarship and creative works to the campus community in different types of sessions: oral sessions, poster sessions, panel presentations, gallery talks so a wide variety of types of presentations,” said Mark Harvey, psychology professor at UNCA.
Harvey prepares for the symposium on April 24 by working with the program coordinator to create the schedule, take in all the information from the students who applied to speak and working with other faculty on campus in order to create the symposium.
Mila Lemaster, program coordinator of undergraduate research, said she creates the calendar, schedules all the presentations and reserves all the rooms to make the symposium possible.
The symposium consists of oral and poster presentations. The oral presentations take place in the academic building which corresponds with the subject matter, and the poster presentations take place in the Sherrill Center in two or three sessions, Lemaster said.
Anybody can present in the symposium and the public is invited to attend. Students usually appear at the symposium, but community members, parents and residents of the nearby retirement home all come too, Lemaster said.
There are more presentations during the spring symposium due to the larger graduating class and Lemaster said many departments require their students to present.
“In the fall we usually have around 150, up to 200. In the spring we usually have up to 300 students presenting,” Harvey said.
Another difference this spring has to offer will be faculty development sessions throughout the day, especially as they relate to undergraduate research and scholarship students, Harvey said.
This semester there will be sessions from students working in community
engagement projects. Harvey said in order to find out what topics will be presented, students should look for the symposium schedule which will be posted a couple weeks before the actual symposium.
Harvey and Lemaster said they create the schedule by taking the 350 people who applied, putting them into a space and time and making sure there will be no double booking for those who are planning to present more than once.
Leila Beikmohamadi, a senior psychology student, presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposium both semesters last year.
She presented a required poster project for her Psychology of Family Violence class, where she looked at domestic violence in teen magazines, and a poster project for her Advanced
Neuroscience class about empathy in the human brain. Lastly, she did independent research
under Rebecca Hale, associate professor of biology, and gave an oral presentation about pitcher plants last spring.

Leila Beikmohamadi prepares for her third Undergraduate Research
Symposium. Photo by Caitlin Doherty.

“I wanted to get research experience, and I’ve been working on this project for a year so I
thought it was a good idea to present what I was working on,” Beikmohamadi said.
To prepare for the oral project, she practiced a lot and did some original research but also relied on some past scientific articles, Beikmohamadi said.
“For me, poster presentations are easier to do because you aren’t presenting in front of a group of people but rather people come up to you,” Beikmohamadi said.
Before her presentations, Beikmohamadi said she was really nervous, but in the end she  she gained a lot.
“It’s good professional development because you’ll have to present a lot in the future. It’s cool getting that experience and having it in your pocket,” Beikmohamadi said.
Beikmohamadi said she eagerly awaits the upcoming symposium because many of her friends plan on presenting.
“It’s cool seeing what my friends have been working on and being able to support them like they did for me a year ago,” Beikmohamadi said.
Justine Lockhart, a senior psychology student, worked with Beikmohamadi on the domestic violence in teen magazine presentation for their Psychology of Family Violence class.
Lockhart presented twice before, this semester marking her third time.
Aside from the domestic abuse presentation, Lockhart presented a poster from her Psychology of Women class. Her and a partner created a survey about attitudes toward bisexual and lesbian representation in media, she said.
This semester, Lockhart will be doing a presentation for her Advanced Neuroscience class. She is looking at pitch and rhythm, how humans can keep rhythm to the beat of a song and how humans can manipulate pitch through singing and playing an instrument.
All of her presentations were required for her classes, Lockhart said.
“If I wasn’t required by class, I would’ve seeked it out through a professor because I think it’s important to do research at school,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart said she was anxious before her first presentation because of all the people who were there.
“Before my first one, I was really nervous just because there’s so many people at the
Undergraduate Research Symposium, but once I got into it after the first 10 minutes I was pretty calm. It really is just a bunch of different conversations,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart said these presentations really helped her in her field.
“For a psychology major you have to take Research Methods 1 and 2, which is like statistics, and you also have to take Intro to Statistics so it kind of puts it to practice,” she said.
For her upcoming presentation, Lockhart said she plans to analyze different articles, creating an annotated bibliography and analyzing different sources.
“Professors do a pretty good job of dividing the work. First you brainstorm, then you have the resources or data collection, then you put it into a poster and then you present it,” Lockhart said.
By presenting in the Undergraduate Research Symposium, Lockhart shows future employers her research skills.
“I put it on my resume, I think it impresses people to see you have research experience. It shows that you are really interested in your field and have statistic and data collecting knowledge,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart said she plans to go into the counseling aspect of psychology and said it is still a good experience to present.
“Even if you’re not super interested in research it’s good to learn more about it because you can still gain something out of it,” Lockhart said.

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