Centre students turn heads at Kentucky Academy of Science annual meeting

Posted by Centre News in Academics, News, Research 27 Nov 2013

Part of being a researcher at Centre, whether student or faculty, is presenting one’s work to colleagues, and Centre gives students a chance to do that each year at the Kentucky Academy of Sciences (KAS) annual meeting.

The Kentucky Academy of Sciences is the Kentucky affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Academies of Science. The organization “encourages scientific research, promotes the diffusion of scientific knowledge and unifies the scientific interests of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” With over 700 active members, the organization funds multiple grants, including one for undergraduate research. In addition, KAS publishes a spring and fall edition of Journal of the Kentucky Academy of Science.

Multiple professors took students to the meeting, including Assistant Professor of Biology Brian Storz, Associate Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Melissa Burns-Cusato and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kerry Paumi.

storz_freytag2

Sara Beth Freytag ’14, who worked with Dr. Storz during the summer (right), accompanied him to KAS and presented “Conspecific Phenotypic Plasticity in Response to Sensory Signals of Predation and Death.”

Freytag appreciated the opportunity to not only practice public speaking but also learn about other research being completed throughout the Commonwealth.

“It’s a great networking opportunity and allows us to be a part of the bigger scientific community,” she says.

The presentation was especially important for Freytag, whose potential graduate school advisor attended.

“I was able to show her what I’m capable of,” Freytag explains,” rather than just write about it in my application essay.”

Melissa Burns-Cusato (pictured right with Taylor Vetter ’13) had three students who presented at KAS: Ellie Bailey ’14 and Paige Baechle ’14, who presented “Neurobiology of Avian Pair Bonds,” and Ashley Boerrigter ’14, who presented “Dopamine and Pair Bond.”

burns_cusato_labBailey and Baechle won second place in the Psychology Division of oral presentations. Sloane Weed, a student of Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Goetz, won third place in the psychology division.

Burns-Cusato is passionate about giving students the opportunity to participate in the KAS presentations.

“Our goal is for research students to experience the entire process: literature review, developing a research question, designing an experiment, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data, and finally, sharing their findings with an audience,” she says. “Going off campus to present data to a room full of scientists elevates the students’ experience because presenting at KAS better represents the real-world process of science.”

Burns-Cusato also values how KAS is yet another opportunity for Centre students to improve their already strong oral presentation skills.

“Centre places a lot more emphasis on the development of oral presentation skills than do many larger institutions,” she explains. “The beneficial effects of all those in-class oral presentations are evident when Centre students stand at the front of a room full of strangers and describe their research; they’re performing on a near-professional level that will serve them well in their careers.”

A uniquely important element of KAS is the opportunity to present null findings.

“Science textbooks and journals only report the experiments that find a significant change, creating the impression that good experiments guarantee significant results,” Burns-Cusato says. “That’s definitely not the case, and that fact is evident at KAS, where it’s acceptable to present null findings. It’s critically important for students to learn that it’s okay when experiments don’t work.”

paumi3Kerry Paumi (right) took two students to this year’s presentation, Louis Rodgers ’15 and Emily Madden ’15.

“It’s important for students to present their work in front of a group of peers,” Paumi explains. “Peer review and critique is an important part of science, and having the opportunity to present, critique and defend research is a valuable skill, both for the coursework in their various majors at Centre and their life beyond Centre. KAS offers our students a place to experience this side of the professional world.”

Madden’s presentation was titled “Identifying Metal Chelators to Reduce Amyloid-B (beta) Aggregation in the Presence of Cu2+ Zn2+ and Fe3+.”

Rodgers’s presentation, titled “Synthesis of Peptide Linked Metal Chelators: a Possible Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease,” placed second in the Chemistry: Organic/Inorganic Undergraduate Paper Presentation division.

Though it was his first time presenting at KAS, Rodgers says he was excited rather than nervous.
“After a full summer of research in the lab, it was rewarding to talk about my progress so far and get feedback from outside of the Centre community,” he explains.

The experience gave Rodgers inspiration and motivation for future research.

“It allowed me to see what research is like outside Centre and increased my interest in continuing research after my time at Centre,” he says. “I also learned some valuable techniques from other researchers that I may apply to my research throughout this semester.”

Rodgers attributes much of his success at KAS to the robust classes and supportive faculty he has had at Centre.

“I found it easy to discuss the mechanisms associated with my reactions because I’d written papers and given presentations similar to my research topic in both semesters of organic chemistry,” he explains. “In addition, I was able to talk about my research with Dr. Paumi whenever I came across some issues or needed any clarification. Her willingness to help enabled me to understand the details of my research better.

Paumi especially enjoys seeing her students present at KAS.

“The students completely take ownership of their projects,” she says. “It’s fantastic to see the enthusiasm they have for their accomplishments.”

Learn more about undergraduate research at Centre.

By Mariel Smith