From April 5th through the 8th, I attended the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Taking place for the 76th year, the MPSA Conference is an opportunity for political science scholars to present their research in a variety of sessions, ranging from lectures and lightning talks to roundtable discussions and panel presentations.
As a participant in the Undergraduate Poster Session on The Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment, I presented my research titled, “The Impact of Ghana’s 2011 Oil Production on the Western Region’s Oil-Bearing Communities,” which I had conducted for Dr. Kevin Fridy’s course on the Political Economy of Africa in the spring 2017 semester. During the hour-and-a-half-long poster session, I got the chance to give ninety-second presentations of my twenty-page paper, answer questions about my research, receive feedback on what to add, remove, or modify in future replications of the research, and embark on discussions that integrated both my research and those of the attendees. The attendees I interacted with and who toured the poster session were all at different stages of their political science academic or professional experience; while some were graduate school students and PhD candidates, others were session discussants and on-the-field professionals. Not only did my participation as a poster presenter put me on the spot and force me to think on my feet countless times, but, even more interestingly, it shed light on the power a subject of interest can have in tying together individuals from completely unrelated backgrounds. None of us knew each other’s names, nationalities, or experiences, yet we talked about natural resources, developing nations, African governments and citizens, and so on, endlessly!
In addition to being a conference participant, I got the opportunity to attend others’ presentations, two of which were paper sessions pertaining to Economic Development, particularly development outcomes, inequality, and ethnicity. Conducted differently than poster sessions, these paper sessions entailed three to four presenters discussing their research papers, discussants raising questions about and providing feedback on these presentations, and both presenters and discussants addressing questions from the audience. Right in front of me was a forum for productive discussions, debates, and exchanges of ideas that was more confident, mature, and advanced than any classroom lecture or group meeting I had ever attended or participated in. While presenting my research at this conference is a testament to the knowledge and experience I acquired during my four-year experience at UT, participating in discussions on various research topics and attending others’ presentations gave me a slight glimpse of all that I have yet to learn as a political science student and scholar!
The Florida Political Science Association (FPSA) conference at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Ft. Myers was an unforgettable experience. I enjoyed being around other political scientists looking to explore different questions relevant to our world today. It was fascinating to see what undergraduate and graduate students are coming up with and what research topics are seeing more interest.
Being able to present my research regarding the effects of education on perceived government threats with my partner, Anne Kerda, was very exciting, especially because we received helpful feedback to aid us in moving forward with this line of research. The faculty in the political science department at UT were especially helpful in preparing us, allowing us to excel and stand out at the conference. The amount of preparation we had compared to other presenters truly puts into perspective how much our political science department pushes us for exceptional achievement.
Prior to the FPSA conference, I had attended other conferences, but this one was by far the best one! I felt right at home with “my people” [other political scientists] and I was thrilled to share the experience with UT colleagues. In the end, I was happy to hear that the next FPSA conference will be held at our very own campus, so I definitely look forward to participating in the conference again next year!
The SEPA 2018 annual conference was the first time I showcased my original research on a poster. There is a common understanding in the academic world that poster presentations are the most casual and easy part of any conference. This understanding did not stop me from being excited or anxious as I drove to Charleston. My poster was scheduled to be in the third and last poster session, which means I had plenty of time to not only fret over my knowledge of my own research but also attend the other poster sessions to get an idea of what was coming my way.
It took me all of five minutes, after I entered the first session, to realise that I was in the soup. Here was a room packed with people from various sub-fields of psychology, with different interests, and belonging to a wide variety of backgrounds. While it was overwhelming to be amidst the products of so many research initiatives, my anxiety transformed with each poster into an appreciation of the opportunity that I received through the support of the Honors Program at UT.
I learned a tremendous amount about the current research avenues of Psychology from just being in the presence of scholars and fellow college students who presented their research or led a discussion group at the conference. Moreover, I was able to visit some of the interesting historic and natural sites that Charleston has to offer. The Honors Program encouraged my endeavour to develop my own research and helped me achieve my goal to present at a conference, for which I am incredibly grateful.
Working with Dr. Abraham Miller, Honors student Laura Hearst recently combined a trip to California to attend the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Conference with a visit to the California Academy of Sciences to examine some scorpion specimens. The pictures above show Laura and Dr. Miller examining the scorpions. The research is part of her Honors Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
Honors Program Directors Kacy Tillman and Ryan Cragun recently took three UT students to the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Atlanta. Two members of the Honors Council, Carla Shapira and Delaney Russell, attended the conference, along with Honors student Hanifah Griffith, who was presented a poster titled, “Do Honors Symposia Affect Student Beliefs, Values, and Behaviors? A Pre- and Post-Test Study”. We attended a number of sessions and enjoyed a number of meals together where we discussed what we were learning at the conference.
The conference was in downtown Atlanta, which meant it was quite close to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The five of us took some time late one afternoon to visit the site and learn more about the life and activism of Dr. King.
The Honors Program at UT is a member of three Honors Councils. At the national level, there is the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC). At the regional level, there is the Southern Regional Honors Council (SRHC). And at the state level, there is the Florida Collegiate Honors Council (FCHC). Each of these Honors Councils holds annual conferences (typically in the fall for NCHC and in the spring for SRHC and FCHC).
The current Honors Program Directors have decided to prioritize students attending disciplinary conferences with faculty members at UT where they can present their research and make contacts that will be helpful as they consider graduate school (like this and this). However, there are some benefits from attending the various Honors Conferences. The primary benefit is that Honors Conferences often have a focus on Honors education and have a number of sessions that can help Honors Program Directors and Honors Councils improve the Honors Program at UT. Additionally, presenting scholarship at an Honors Conference can also provide experience in how to present scholarship to a scholarly audience.
UT Honors Program students who would like to attend an Honors Conference have to do the following:
- Complete an application that details the scholarly work they would like to present at the conference.
- The Honors Program Directors will evaluate the application. Only high-quality applications will be accepted by the Honors Program Directors.
- If the application is accepted, the student will then have to apply to the appropriate Honors conference (i.e., NCHC, SRHC, or FCHC) through their website.
- If the application is accepted, the student will notify the Honors Program Directors so appropriate travel arrangements can be made.
- Prior to attending the conference, the student must present their research to the Honors Program Directors so they can provide feedback on the presentation.
Students who are selected to attend an Honors conference will be expected to professionally represent UT’s Honors Program when presenting their work.
Additionally, it is the expectation of the Honors Program Directors that the student will attend other sessions at the conference both in the interest of learning and also to find ways to improve UT’s Honors Program.