Undergraduate Research Symposium to be held virtually again

By Royal Shrestha, Staff Writer

Last spring semester, in the midst of COVID-19, the biggest event on campus for undergraduate researchers was held virtually. The University has announced that the upcoming research symposium would again be virtual, but with big changes concerning the platform and format. 

Last year, the symposium was held on Compass with more than 450 students; just half the attendance of the Symposium of April, 2019, where over 800 students presented their research throughout the day, said Karen Rodriguez’G, the current director of the office for undergraduate research. 

With so many students presenting their research, Rodriguez’G described the process of setting up Compass and accommodating the presenters, as well as the visitors, to be very difficult. Many of the presentations were done asynchronously, where students would record their presentations and post it on Compass for others to view. 

“There were many live student presentations as well, with some gaining over 150 concurrent views,” Rodriguez’G said. 

Rodriguez’G described how while the virtual experience might not be the same as last year. Some students actually preferred the virtual format. There was no longer a space limit, as the symposium was usually held in the Illini Union each year, and students had to compete for these spaces. With the virtual format, it gave access to more presentations and gave students more freedom to look at other presentations.  

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Amartya Shah, a sophomore in Engineering, described how this new format allowed him to not worry about securing a space in Illini Union and it also allowed him to view student presentations he couldn’t before during the symposium. 

For the symposium this upcoming April, Rodriguez’G hopes to have more live, synchronous presentations from around different colleges in campus. 

“We oftentimes have a few judges and students around each student’s poster presentation at a time, but for hundreds to be listening in at the same time is something else,” Rodriguez’G said. 

The judging process took the biggest change in this new format where instead of normally having three judges around a student’s poster, this time, the judges will send in their questions through a form and will have the students respond back to them.

“The one downside to this new virtual format was not being able to receive feedback in real time from the judges,” Shah said. “The overall judging experience felt a bit lackluster.”

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