A little inspiration — and a lot of hard work — helped two biology students revolutionize a regional research conference.
After graduate students Jessica Davis and Rachel McNeish traveled to Indiana to attend the 2013 Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference — an annual student-hosted migratory conference that enables students to showcase their research, network with students and faculty from surrounding institutions, and make connections with potential graduate or post-doctoral advisors — an idea took root.
“Rachel and I saw that mostly universities from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana attended, and we thought, there is no reason UD can’t own this and do it better than everyone else. So, that’s what we set out to do,” Davis said. UD hosted the 2014 conference at its River Campus March 1-2.
Unlike many international and national conferences, MEEC provides a low-pressure, safe environment for young scientists to explore new ideas and practice their delivery of scientific findings. With that in mind, Davis aimed to get as many conference participants as possible while utilizing the talents of her fellow students.
“I established a list of 30 surrounding universities I thought may be interested, and sent emails to their corresponding department chairs and deans. We also established a Facebook page for MEEC, and asked Grace Willkomm, a senior biology major, to design the logo, which garnered a lot of compliments,” Davis said.
More than 300 people attended this year’s conference, nearly doubling the 2013 total. Of the 241 presenters, 99 were undergraduate students.
“It was great to have so many undergraduates involved in the conference. As graduate students, we often work with undergrads, so my favorite part of the conference was putting them in the spotlight,” Davis said, noting that her team added a graduate student panel and divided the poster presentation session into two groups to allow presenters more time to network.
“UD faculty told us how impressed others were with the conference, and we know a few undergraduates who were offered graduate positions,” Davis said. “It was a success in many ways.”