Imagine a ballroom packed with undergraduate students flanked by their research posters. The room hums as students discuss topics ranging from cellular biology to electoral politics to creative writing. At the Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC), held each April at UMass, Amherst, Westfield State students joined more than 1000 of their peers from across the commonwealth for a day-long exchange of research and creative work. Of the 48 Westfield State students who participated, many are members of the Honors Program; quite a few were first-year students.
Participating in this event early in your college career is smart: its purpose is to introduce students to presenting their work at an academic conference, an important practice in graduate school and in many professional fields. The statewide conference is accessible and supportive, accepting submissions from all disciplines and open to all students in the Massachusetts public higher education system. Faculty advisors help students write their abstracts to apply for the conference, which is welcoming and “freshman-friendly.” Lauren Stornelli, a first-year psychology and Spanish major who gave a poster presentation on mental health stigma, confirmed, “it was a very comfortable environment where I didn’t feel like it was high pressure; as a first-year student, I was really glad I had the opportunity.”
While the conference might not be a pressure-cooker, it comes with its share of academic prestige. Stornelli described how the feedback she received from working professionals impacted her: “I talked to a guy who was in the field for thirteen years. To have him tell me I did a great job and he couldn’t believe that I was only a first-year student meant a lot.”
The welcoming atmosphere and interdisciplinary focus of the MURC encourages students to be inspired by the impressive work of their peers across Massachusetts. That inspiration may lead to future, more ambitious, academic plans that might otherwise seem daunting. English Secondary Education major Christine Luongo, another first-year student who presented a poster at this year’s conference, can already see the confidence-building impact: “I definitely want to do a Seniors Honors Project, so I’ll have to present my research publicly. I’m glad I got to practice in such a non-threatening venue.”
As students advance in their majors and go on to graduate school or the professions, they will likely participate in discipline-specific conferences. As an English major with a con-centration in writing, I have presented my poetry at the National English Honor Society Conference, giving me valuable professional experience and broadening my knowledge of English studies. At first the idea of attending a conference and speaking in public can feel a little daunting, but, trust me, there are few things better than pushing yourself to speak as an authority and finding out you are becoming one. Consider the MURC an opportunity to begin developing those presentation skills, networking with peers across the state, and getting inspired.
Woody is an Engish major from Lenox MA.
Reprinted from the Squirrel Squire, the newsletter of the Honors Program