by Meredith Dault
March 24, 2011
For student Amy Buitenhuis, the reasons to present her research at the recent 5th annual Inquiry@Queen’s Undergraduate Research Conference (held March 10th and 11th) were clear. “It’s a chance to have people critically engage with your work, give you feedback and challenge your ideas,” she explains. Fellow undergraduateSamantha Jenkins agrees. “It’s also an opportunity to respond to criticism of your work, because if you’re defending a thesis, you’ll have to be able to respond to critiques” she adds thoughtfully. Jenkins, who admits that public speaking isn’t her strong suit, saw the conference as a way to practice talking to an audience. “It’s something that you’ll have to do eventually, but I get kind of nervous. It’s a good way to develop that skill.”
The Inquiry@Queen’s conference is designed to give undergraduate students hands-on experience in an academic conference setting, while fostering critical thinking, effective writing, and presentation skills -- skills that, ultimately, they’ll need in order to pursue graduate-level work. Students are grouped on panels thematically (where possible) and give 15-minute talks (or poster presentations) on their research, later fielding questions from the audience. “It’s beneficial to have to present to people who don’t know anything about your topic,” says Jenkins, a fourth year student in Political Studies. “You may have written a paper for a professor who knows the subject, but for this, you have to reconfigure how you are presenting your information so that everyone in the room knows what you’re talking about!”
An undergraduate student in her fifth year, Buitenhuis is pursuing a dual degree in Engineering and Geography. Though she has presented at the I@Q conference in past years, this time Buitenhuis took the opportunity to talk about the research she is doing for her thesis project. “I looked at the iron ring ceremony in engineering, and the role that it plays in creating a sense of belonging within the profession,” she says, describing the highly ritualistic event engineering students attend in their fourth year of study. “It’s an important symbol in the profession,” she says of the ring.
As an engineer, however, Buitenhuis says she doesn’t get many opportunities to engage in critical discussion within her discipline. “I always did the conference (in the past) because it was a really nice chance for me to talk about engineering culture and education, and to look at it critically and have people listen to me!” she says with a smile. It’s also a way for her friends to be able to hear her talk formally about her research -- something they might not ordinarily have the chance to experience.
Jenkins got involved in the conference after writing a paper for a political studies class taught by Dr. Andrew Grant. “My essay was about the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and one of my examples was Darfur,” she explains. Her professor then suggested that she present her research as part of a panel discussion on campus called Stand For Darfur -- and then encouraged her to deliver it again at I@Q. Jenkins, who is heading to law school at Dalhousie University in the fall, says she appreciated being able to present for an audience of peers with different academic backgrounds. “It gives you a way to look at your research from another perspective.”
Though both Jenkins and Buitenhuis agree that having the I@Q conference under their belts will look good on their academic CVs, they say their main motivation was the chance to learn. Buitenhuis, who will be pursuing a graduate degree in Geography at the University of Toronto in the fall, says that at the end of the day, you’ll get out of it what you put in. “If you come and present and bring friends and collegues, you get a lot more feedback and comments“, she says. “It’s definitely what you make of it.”