Friday morning I got a text from a friend asking me if I’d like to accompany her to the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference the following afternoon to see her roommate present some research she’d been working on. Slightly embarrassed, I asked for more information and admitted I had never heard of the conference before.
Saturday afternoon, I attended the Undergraduate Conference and realized that UC Davis provides ample opportunity for students to get hands-on with their education. Each student presenting had a different area of interest, different research questions to answer, and a unique perspective to offer on their chosen topic. I walked around awed by their accomplishments and grateful for an institution that offers the resources for the 250 students who participated to explore their own curiosities on a variety of subjects.
Admittedly, I am not a science-oriented thinker. Facts about genes and DNA and reverse transcriptase seem to flow in one ear and out the other like background noise. I was concerned that the value of the research, and the conference itself, would be slightly lost on me or that I would find myself left behind. I needn’t have worried. The research was presented well and aesthetically pleasingly, and there were plenty of research studies I could comprehend without assistance from a biology textbook index.
Are you looking for aggression studies on female mice? Got you covered. Always wondered about gender differences in adolescent best friendship staying power? No problem. Curious about potential drugs to aid Alzheimer’s patients? Look no further. Each student had conducted some type of research or exploration, and had created a presentation to convey what they had found, some were lecture-style presentations and others posters that they stood by to answer questions.
After I left, I was filled with a sense pride for the students involved. I hadn’t agreed to go with the intention of turning the day into my article for the week; once I learned what the conference was about, however, I knew it was worth the column inches, if for no other reason than because any event that can produce a sense of pride for strangers and their accomplishments is worthy of a second look.
From the time humans first crawled out of the cave, the thing that has separated us from the rest of the animals was our insatiable thirst for knowledge. We invented the wheel, the steam engine and the automobile; we even conquered flight. We created the telephone, the radio, television, computers and tens of thousands of other things simply because of our innate passion to answer the questions “how” and “why.“ The road to discovery is our defining voyage, and I realized this weekend that our generation has begun to take the reigns.
It’s exciting to think that I could have seen the beginnings of a lifelong research project on a certain subject. Who knows which of these UCD undergrads will go on to discover the vaccine for HIV or a cure for a form of cancer? There is limitless potential for discovery and new knowledge, and with each inquiry into why something is the way it is comes the potential to discover something entirely new.
If you get the chance, go see this conference next year! It is, if nothing else, deeply inspiring to watch your peers be a part of new information and knowledge others have yet to find. The very act of walking in the room and listening to students your age explain their research on lab mice or posit on the different depictions of old fables in modern-day literature is enough to encourage you to explore your own curiosities.
EMILY KAPLAN, her friend Tina and many others have had about enough with the in-class PDA. Seriously, if you can’t keep your hands off each other, don’t take classes together! If you share their frustration, e-mail Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org.