Despite the typical rigors of undergraduate education – the studying, socializing and lack of sleeping that defines many a collegiate experience – some undergraduates manage to find time to conduct undergraduate research.
A wide variety of their findings will be presented Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the "4th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium" in the Howard H. Baker Center's Toyota Auditorium, open to everyone interested.
"We don't want undergraduate research to seem like something that only overachievers do or that it's limited to honors student," Melissa Lee, a junior in College Scholars and an organizer of the event, said. "We want people to understand that undergraduate research is something that's accessible to everyone, that anyone can do."
About 60 students will give oral presentations on their research, offering other students a chance to see what their classmates are discovering outside a textbook's bindings. Each presenter's mentor has been invited, so plenty of professors will be on hand to witness their students' work and discuss it with visitors and researchers alike.
The presentations are widely varied, as everything from the sexual dimorphism of fossil red pandas to the philosophical notions of envy and self-respect will be covered.
The latter presentation, officially titled "Concerning Envy and Self-Respect," will be offered by Evan Ford, a sophomore in philosophy. He's looking forward to Saturday as a chance to see how well his research communicates with others.
"Being able to communicate what you find is very important in philosophy, and it has been really fun to try and figure out how to give a speech on a complicated argument," Ford said, adding that it might also give him a feeling of what teaching would be like.
Many college students relegate research to the world of graduate students and tenure-seeking professors, but Ford thinks it's important to all college students for more than just the résumé boost.
“It helps us see the value of academics beyond just getting a degree and a job, and that can be really inspiring,” he said. “You can actually find new knowledge with research, even if you're just a 20-year-old undergrad.
“A lot of people I know find out what they really want to do with their lives after doing research.”
As the organizer of the event, Lee expressed similar thoughts. She detailed the benefits of undergraduate research, citing the development of problem-solving skills and mentor relationships as some of the most valuable aspects of her undergraduate experience.
She said she began doing research in high school at Vanderbilt University despite having no idea what she was doing.
“If I could do it then, anyone can do it,” she laughed.
Lee, who is currently researching the human brain’s circadian rhythms and the accompanying disorders, admitted that research also holds an inherent thrill for her.
“It’s been the most important thing of my education … It’s really cool to be the first person to know a fact, even if it’s not the most interesting fact,” she said. “It’s just important in that you’re doing research and contributing knowledge to the world.”
Newly-hired Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Taylor Eighmy will serve as the keynote speaker. He will begin at 12:30 p.m. as participants and attendees enjoy complementary dishes from Ephesus Mediterranean Grill.
Lee encouraged all students to come and said that no one is expected to stay the whole time.