Grads Hold Conference

3 April 2003

By Stentor Danielson
Scarlet Staff

From psychology to geography, and biology to women's studies, Clark graduate students came to the University Center (UC) on Friday to present their research. The conference was sponsored by the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the Graduate School.

"We wanted to create a forum for graduate students in multi disciplines to share their research," said Stella Capoccia, an International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE) student and one of the conference organizers.

Capoccia said that GSC also hoped to give graduate students a semi-professional setting to get experience presenting their research, as many will go on to give presentations at academic conferences or when applying for jobs. IDCE student Daniel Putnam, said "I'd never presented in a formal or semi-formal academic setting, so this was a good dry run to learn how to prepare myself."

GSC co-president and psychology student Rainer Diriwächter said that the conference was also meant to reach out to the rest of the Clark community. He hoped that the conference would show undergraduates "that graduate students are not just your TAs, but also engage in a vast array of research."

Most of Clark's graduate programs, including all of those that offer PhDs, were represented at the conference. Psychology led the way with eleven presenters. Students from biology, chemistry, economics, geography, history, IDCE, physics, and women's studies also showcased their work. Thirty-one papers and posters were scheduled, though there were a few last-minute cancellations.

Participants appreciated the opportunity to present their work to people from outside their departments. "There are so many grad students in other disciplines that you don't get a chance to connect with," said psychology student Melissa Tamas.

Women's studies student Jessi Willis said that her work "benefits from the feedback from the people in the audience ... [the conference was] a really good opportunity to share my work with colleagues and faculty who donít get to go to the conferences that I go to because weíre in different disciplines."

Each session at the conference attempted to combine several pieces of research from different departments that shared some sort of theme. For example, a session on "identity" opened with geography student Sarah Loy's paper on how Salt Lake City's image as the heart of the Mormon church was contested in media coverage surrounding the 2002 Winter Olympics. Then psychology student Neill Korobov presented an analysis of a conversation between some 10-11 year old boys about the TV show Strip Poker. The session finished with Willis's presentation on how Queer Theory can help feminists to build alliances across binary constructions of sexuality.

Other topics covered at the conference included microorganisms living in glaciers, assignment of blame in media coverage of environmental hazards, and the stories that people tell themselves in order to feel like they can make their marriage work despite a high rate of divorce in modern society.

Giving a presentation at a conference is no easy task. "I became very flustered, because you prepare a presentation, but doing it is a whole other ballgame," Putnam said. He estimated that he only got through a quarter of what he had planned to present in the time allotted.

"I think itís always a little harder when it's your peers, because you value what they say -- it's nerve-wracking, but the rewards are greater," said Tamas.

Capoccia said that many students "weren't sure if their work was qualified" and so did not want to present a paper or a poster. She said that she had talked about the possibility of holding the conference every semester, so that the fall presentations would give encouragement to students to present in the spring.

Attendance at the conference was strong. Diriwächter said, "At some presentations, the conference rooms reached their capacity and especially the strong attendance by faculty members was very much appreciated. We only wished that more undergraduate students had attended in order to see what we are doing and perhaps become involved."

The conference's honorary speaker, Professor of International Development Richard Ford, spoke about "Research Worth Doing." He said that throughout history, the questions asked by researchers have been shaped by the type of society they lived in. As we enter the information age, scholars are faced with questions very different from those that were addressed by research during the industrial age. He urged graduate students to ask themselves "what new knowledge is required to solve four basic needs of humankind: productivity, sustainability, equitability, stability?"

While a multidisciplinary conference has been held at Clark in the past, the idea had been dormant for three years. Capoccia credited the revival to Diriwächter, who she described as "really carpe diem about all the opportunities we've got."

The conference was organized by Diriwächter, Capoccia, psychology student Rosemarie Sokol, and biology student and GSC co-president Tetteh Abbeyquaye. The organizers thanked Dean of Graduate Studies Nancy Budwig for her help.

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