Four Reasons to Attend a Research Conference as an Undergrad

February 17, 2020

Whether you’re presenting your own research or just immersing yourself in the experience, a conference can be an exciting opportunity for young scholars.

1. Share your research.

Physics majors George Abreu ’22, Avery Barnett ’21, and Courtney Carter ’21, and chemistry major Clinton Sabah ’21 attended the annual conference of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) in Providence, Rhode Island, Nov. 14–17, 2019, along with Barbara Breen, assistant professor of physics. Three of the students presented their own research.

Barnett “analyzed the renewable energy potential available in Barbados” during her summer 2019 internship with a power company there. In her conference presentation, “The Possibility of 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030: A Land Area Analysis,” she assessed whether there’s enough land to develop renewable energy technology to power the whole country.

Carter studied low-metal stars in the Milky Way's halo at the Banneker Institute at Harvard University in the summer of 2019. At the NSBP conference, her poster presentation won an award, which included $250, for best astronomy poster.

Sabah presented research on electrolytes for potential commercial use in lithium ion batteries. His presentation was based on a summer 2019 Mentored Advanced Project with Leslie Lyons, professor of chemistry.

Students chat with a faculty member at a conference
Grinnell students chat with another conference goer.

2. Meet potential mentors in your field.

“I had a positive experience at the first [NSBP conference] I attended in 2017,” Barnett says, “and I wanted to be immersed in such an inclusive environment, which gives me access to mentors.”

3. Learn more about your discipline.

Carter, who also attended the NSBP in 2017 as a first-year student, left it “really feeling energized about my coursework.”

At the 2019 event, Barnett spoke with people from a wide range of physics disciplines and learned about other students’ research.

4. Meet more people like you.

“I’ve been in a room with 100 other people who are black physicists. It made me feel good,” Carter says. “Unfortunately, especially for black women, I think there are currently fewer than 100 who have ever held Ph.D.s in physics,” she adds. “There’s a website that keeps track.” African American Women in Physics keeps such a list.

The students’ travel funding was provided by the Office of the Dean and the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation.


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