Student Researchers Refine Presentations for National Meeting

Dry run with faculty and fellow students helps young scholars present to the masses

23 October, 2014 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Sarah Frederick, a senior geology major from Shorewood, Wis., stood confidently in front of her poster as students and faculty jostled for a closer look. Her project, titled "Tree-Ring Reconstruction of the Paleoclimatic History for the Russian Far East," summarized the results of robust research with senior scholars, and she wanted to be sure that she could speak eloquently and respond intelligently to any questions that might be asked.

Fortunately, this was a dry run on a Thursday morning in the friendly confines of a lecture room Scovel Hall, but the following week, Frederick and her fellow geology majors would have to be ready for the real thing at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Vancouver.

"The purpose [of the exercise] was to give the students a chance to think about what they've done and how to present it," said Greg Wiles, professor of geology at Wooster and a fellow researcher on this project. "It also allowed them to revise their poster and make it better."

On this day there were 12 students, each of whom would be sharing their research with an international audience of scholars for the first time, including Adam Silverstein, a junior from Forest Hills, N.Y. Silverstein was asked about the balance between the use of technical language and more general terms that could be understood by a lay audience, especially when your topic is "Constraints on Emplacement Depths and Eruption Dynamics for Pillow Lavas from Quarries in Southwestern Iceland." In those cases, said Silverstein, "I try to use basic concepts from our 100-level courses. This is important because we need to explain things in a way that the general public can understand."

Julia Franceschi, a junior from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Mary Reinthal, a junior from Danville, Ohio, teamed up to explain "Preliminary Geochemical Constraints on the Evolution of Pillow Ridge Tindar, Edziza Volcanic Complex, NCVT," which outlined results of their summer work in British Columbia.

Wilson Nelson, a senior from Bemus Point, N.Y., noted the value of the entire experience, beginning with a summer research expedition to Glacier Bay, Alaska. "It was really awesome," he said. "I've never presented at a national meeting before, so I really wanted to be as confident as possible, and these [mock presentations] really helped."

Brittany Nicholson, a junior from Wooster, was also a first-time presenter. Her topic, "Meta-Analysis of Mentoring Models in Marine Science Undergraduate Research Programs," grew out of her sophomore research experience and was more about the collaborative nature of student-faculty partnerships than actual science. But she, too, found the session helpful. "It was good to have others look at my poster," she said. "They were very helpful in pointing out things that needed to be corrected."

In addition to the posters, several students gave PowerPoint presentations, including Zach Downes, a senior from Howard, Ohio, who addressed "Dating Glacial History of the First Millennium Ce In Muir Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Southeast Alaska," and Sarah McGrath, a sophomore from Sharon, Mass., who discussed "Three-Hundred Years of Continuity: A Yellow Cedar Bark Stripping Site on Pleasant Island, Icy Straits, Southeast Alaska." Both presentations were superbly illustrated and confidently delivered — as if they had done it numerous times before.

And that was the ultimate objective, according to Meagen Pollock, associate professor of geology at Wooster. "Our goal was to give the students a safe space so they could work out their jitters and become comfortable with their presentation," she said. "In the end, I think they all felt more self-assured."