Guest Entry: Looking Ahead to the 2014 National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Earlier this semester, I welcomed the first "guest blogger" to share her experience at the 2013 Inauguration. Yesterday, Keith Hautala (UKPR) chronicled his experience with students at the 2013 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Today, we take a look ahead at what UK can expect as the 2014 NCUR host.

Please enjoy.

By Keith Hautala

The UK site team for the 2013 National Conference on Undergraduate Research returned to Lexington early Sunday morning after a whirlwind three-day visit to La Crosse, Wisc. 

For the students who went, it was a terrific opportunity to present their research before a receptive audience of their peers and to get feedback from others in their fields. In addition to the poster and oral presentations, there was a gallery for fine arts presentations, and a number of performing arts sessions as well. 

The poster sessions took place around a large indoor running track, with hundreds of simultaneous presentations arranged at numbered three-sided kiosks. It was a veritable supermarket of undergraduate research, with presentations turning over every 90 minutes. Around the perimeter were tables for the Graduate and Professional Fair, which ran concurrently. UK had a table for The Graduate School, as well as a table promoting NCUR 2014, which was staffed by UK student volunteers in one-hour shifts. Both were well attended, and many visitors said they were already excited about coming to Lexington next April. 

The oral sessions were organized thematically, covering just about every discipline imaginable. These were grouped in 80-minute blocks, with four 20-minute presentations in each. The one, frequently voiced, complaint with this arrangement was that there was no time allotted to get from one session to the next, so attendees had to plan carefully and occasionally had to miss part of one session to make it to another.

I had the pleasure of attending an environmental science session, where UK senior Stratton Hatfield presented his project studying the population dynamics of the African lion. On the long bus trip back, I got to talk to Stratton a little bit about his experience. He told me that it was invaluable to get to present his work to people from different disciplines and to get a variety of different points of view. 

"I have been approaching the problem (of lion preservation) primarily from an environmental sciences perspective," he said, "But the more I talk to people, the more I realize that economics is also a critical part of the equation. So that has been very useful to me, as I think about my future." 

And that seemed to be the story we heard over and over again from students who participated. "I never thought about it this way," or "I discovered for the first time," were frequently heard refrains on the way back home. Conferences like NCUR give students a chance to exchange ideas with people from different places, and different disciplines, and it gives them an opportunity to view their own work in a new and different light. For young researchers at the beginning of their careers, it can be an invaluable experience. 

For the staff who attended, we got a crash course in what to expect when UK hosts the conference next spring. The sheer logistics of hosting a conference with over 3,000 attendees -- housing, feeding, and transporting all of those people, scheduling the hundreds of sessions, arranging excursions and social activities -- will be a big job, even in a larger city like Lexington. 

Fortunately, we have a full year to do it. We've also got a great campus, a beautiful city, and a wonderful team of faculty and staff to help us pull it off. We'll need to start recruiting and training student volunteers early, because there will be plenty of work to go around. But it's an exciting project, and it's the kind of thing that can really galvanize our campus. It will also give us a great opportunity to show young scholars from around the country the very best of UK, so they'll leave here "seeing blue."