On Monday, the Yale Undergraduate Research Association hosted Yale’s first undergraduate research symposium — an all-day event that gave almost 50 student researchers the opportunity to showcase their findings.
In the hallway of Linsly-Chittenden Hall, roughly 100 undergraduates gathered in small groups around the 48 presenters, who displayed their summer research on topics ranging from Japanese-American identity in the internment period during WWII, to the role of the protein ATF4 in Lung Adenocarcinoma Metastasis.
The symposium began with a keynote speech by Megan Urry, director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the first tenured woman in Yale’s Physics Department, proceeded with four speakers selected from the larger group of researchers — and concluded with an awards ceremony.
The Monday event was the first-ever interdisciplinary symposium for undergraduate research at Yale, said Daniel Lee ’16, an organizer of the event. The idea for the symposium, Lee said, was to give students the chance to capstone their summer projects — an opportunity they previously lacked. He added that he hopes the symposium will now be held each year.
Similarly, Jingjing Xiao ’18, one of YURA’s board members, said the event aims to cultivate a broader culture of research at Yale that would encourage greater collaboration among students.
“A lot of why I came to Yale was because 98 percent of STEM students engage in research before graduating, but when I got here I saw that research jobs were separated by department,” said Xiao. “In reality, the way Yale treats education isn’t so compartmentalized — we come into Yale undecided majors so that we have the opportunity to explore a wide range of majors.”
For this reason, Xiao said, undergraduates can explore a wider range of topics and discover new passions by engaging with each other’s ideas — something that the event facilitates.
The symposium is supposed to represent all subjects from humanities to social sciences to natural sciences, although this year 41 out of 48 selected projects are in STEM fields, with biology taking up 22 spots alone. There were six research projects in social sciences and one in humanities.
Juliana Coraor ’16, a director on the organizing board, said that the board will continue to make an effort to diversify the disciplines presented.
“Although we all come from science backgrounds, we want to get away from this idea that only science research is worth doing and to have a more even-balanced symposium,” Lee said.
One perk of the event for presenters was that it gave them an opportunity to practice putting their research into accessible terms rather than appealing only to experts, said Andrew Saydjari ’18, who presented on research he had conducted on the origins of life on earth. While he was comfortable speaking to his coworkers in the lab about the project and to academic advisors, he saw value in being able to articulate his research to people inexperienced in the field.
This skill, he added, was crucial when applying for grants and forced him to consider his area of expertise from other perspectives.
“I think some of the best scientific breakthroughs are going to come through people looking at each other’s work and discussing it,” he said. “I’m a chemist, but I’m working on a biochemistry project and some of the pleasure of it comes from looking at it from a much different perspective.”
Urry said that for college students who are interested in research as a profession, their first priority at college is to find which field is the right fit.
“I didn’t do any research while I was studying at Tufts as an undergrad because [undergraduate research] was not a thing. And yet there is nothing more important for an undergrad than figuring out what you want to do,” Urry said.
Urry told the News that undergraduate researchers can often make meaningful contributions, and that the Physics Department often sees undergraduates as co-authors of published articles.
Roughly 60 students submitted their projects for admission to the symposium. The winners of the competition were Saydjari, Blake Smith ’16 and Daniel McQuaid ’18.