Undergraduate Research Conference 2009

The fifth U21 URC took place in the University of Glasgow from 15 to 21 October 2009. 55 people registered for the conference, and we were delighted to welcome staff and students from eleven countries and sixteen U21 institutions.

Delegates who arrived to register on Thursday 15 October found the University bathed in warm sunshine, which continued for several days. They were offered a walking tour of the campus and a visit to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the city’s main gallery and museum and were accompanied by student volunteers, all of whom had spent the previous year studying at a U21 partner institution. Two of these students were completely surprised and delighted to discover former classmates amongst the delegates from Hong Kong and Melbourne.

Friday

Professor Steven Beaumont, Vice Principal for Research and Enterprise, opened the Conference by first welcoming delegates to the university, the city and Scotland. He spoke of the benefits of research, both to the individual personally and to the wider community, and pointed out that the answer to a specific problem often lay in unexpected and apparently unrelated quarters.

This demonstrated the importance of the URC in providing an invaluable forum to develop cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary links. This was followed by a public lecture, part of a series to celebrate the centenary of Geography in the university. Dr Amy Kerr, Director of the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society, gave a fascinating talk on Facing up to Climate Change’, which was followed by some penetrating questions from the audience.

After lunch the delegates were taken on a tour of the city with an official guide, accompanied again by some student volunteers. This covered all of Glasgow’s famous landmarks, and included a stop in the Cathedral. In the evening there was a civic reception in the magnificent City Chambers. Bailie James Scanlon, representing the Lord Provost, along with the Lord Lyon of Arms, welcomed the delegates to the City of Glasgow and spoke of the long and very significant links between the city and the University.

Saturday

Delegates were driven to Edinburgh for the day. This began with a tour of Edinburgh Castle, leaving the afternoon free for shopping, visits to galleries, or simply sight-seeing through the medieval Old Town. And still the sun shone! In the evening, a ceilidh had been organised in the wonderful setting of the Bute Hall, site of our graduation ceremonies. This is a traditional Scottish evening of music and dancing, which began with a demonstration by the Pipe Band of the Officers’ Training Corps. Traditional tunes were combined with marching with military precision, providing many tartan photo opportunities. Thereafter, the ceilidh band provided music all evening, with the leader calling instructions for the various Scottish dances. We were impressed and delighted that all delegates participated with great enthusiasm, and later declared this to have been a favourite part of the conference.

Sunday

A tour of the Trossachs, a picturesque mountain area about an hour from Glasgow, had been organised, including a stop in the town of Callander. This was followed by a visit to Glengoyne Distillery, including a talk on how whisky is produced. The free tasting of Scotland’s most famous product was much enjoyed, and many souvenirs were purchased.

Monday

The academic part of the conference was concentrated into two days, Monday and Tuesday. The programme had deliberately sought to provide as many social opportunities as possible for the students to get to know one another before that time, so that they could feel they were among friends and presenting their research would become less daunting. This proved to be a hugely successful formula, and by Monday they had already learned a great deal, both about their fellow delegates and about their research topics, which allowed them both to be more relaxed in their presentations and to have the confidence to ask questions.

Professor Andrea Nolan, Senior Vice Principal and Deputy Vice Chancellor, introduced this section of the programme. As one of the university’s U21 Managers, she outlined the history of the network and the wonderful things it had achieved, and for which it would continue to strive. And she emphasised the importance of providing this annual opportunity to bring outstanding young people together to share research discoveries, and to forge international friendships. Presentations were given in groups of four throughout the day, each chaired by a visiting member of staff. These were grouped into roughly analogous areas, publicised around the university, so that local staff and students could attend sections of particular interest.

Time was allocated in the middle of the day for the group photograph, which sadly had to be taken indoors as the good weather had finally deserted us. In mid-afternoon the first ten students who were presenting posters had the opportunity to discuss their research and conclusions with the audience, leading to some very lively discussions.

The evening was devoted to the conference reception and dinner, which was greatly enjoyed by all present. Hosted by our Principal, Professor Anton Muscatelli, it was also attended by Vice Principal Professor Andrea Nolan, former Vice-Principal Professor Peter Holmes, and the Deans of five Faculties. In his speech of welcome, the Principal indicated that, having toured castles, danced in ceilidhs, and sampled whisky, delegates were now all honorary Scots!

Tuesday

Presentations in groups of four again continued throughout the day. In mid-morning, the second group of students who provided posters presented their research methods and outcomes to an enthusiastic audience. After the final presentation, delegates were asked to vote on both the most effective presentation and most effective poster. Because of the extremely high standard set in both categories, this proved to be a very difficult decision for delegates.

Prizes were presented to the following: Presentation First prize - Jessica Harding, University of Auckland Second prize - Emma Laurie, University of Glasgow Poster First prize - Padraig Edwards, University College Dublin Joint second prize - Heather Anderson, University of Melbourne & Eric Ma, University of British Columbia.

The Conference closed with a short address by Professor Peter Holmes, Senior International Development Adviser, who thanked all participants and congratulated them on the excellent research which had been demonstrated. While urging delegates to take advantage of the opportunity to publish their work in The Oculus, he expressed the hope that they had gained both knowledge and friends during their visit to Glasgow, and that these friendships would be maintained once everybody returned to their home country.

The papers from the conference, published in the University of Virginia's student journal The Oculus can be found at
http://uvaoculus.wordpress.com/universitas-21/u21archives/