Experts Emerge

Student presents research results with a slide show.

Choosing an oral presentation over a poster session, Elizabeth Austin '14 details the results of her work from this past summer, when she worked as an intern with the Plymouth, Mass., nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Students showcase research results at the annual Biology Research Symposium

by Tony Moore

If you want to hear firsthand about a qualitative and quantitative survey of cetaceans, the effects of depth on the size of invasive red lionfish in South Caicos or an assessment of a painted turtle population and an error analysis of community-generated data, well, the biology department has just the thing: the Biology Research Symposium.

“This is a major part of a biology/biochemistry & molecular biology major’s experience at Dickinson,” says Associate Professor of Biology Scott Boback, noting that presenting research results via oral presentation or poster session is both required of majors and important in its own right. “It really puts students in a different position, having to discuss the research that they performed to a varied audience: You get your peers, fellow biology majors and also the faculty from biology and associated departments. So the questions can come from anywhere.”

That experience might feel like facing a firing squad and invoke more than a minor case of the jitters … if students didn’t find themselves so thoroughly ready for the experience.

“I anticipated being nervous,” says Juliana Schneider ’15. “But due to my learning experiences, both in [Associate Professor of Biology Michael Robert’s] lab and in South Africa, I was well prepared to explain my findings and field any questions that came my way.”

Schneider’s posters were titled “African Impact: Rural Medical Outreach and HIV/AIDS Awareness” and “Inducing Cell Cycle Arrest and Apoptosis in Human Leukemia Cells: The Roles of c-Myc and p73,” which sound like they tackle topics better left to experts. But what Schneider calls the symposium’s “interactive exchange of knowledge and ideas” highlights an epiphany that Boback sees happening in students again and again.

“Students discover that they themselves are the experts at that point,” he says. “Going through that is a great thing. When we sit back as faculty and see our students present the results of their work, they just ... take off. It’s amazing to me. We knew them when they were 17 or 18 years old, and now they’ve already got one foot outside the limestone walls.”

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Published March 5, 2014