Thursday, April 7, 2011

NCUR Summation

Currently on the train back from NCUR, and it's a real relief. The last week or so has been all sorts of rollercoaster.

Last Monday I had to catch the train from Seattle to Minneapolis, which is easy enough in theory. In practice, my fiance and I forget about Seattle's unique rush hour and then go to the wrong train station. One of the main downtown public transit stations is right next to the Amtrak station, so I ran as fast I could to the fancier station only to find that I had to haul my bright pink suitcase 200 yards back to the crumbling Amtrack depot.

One major lesson I learned about Amtrak last week: It is many things, but it is not fancy.

Also, bring your own food. Otherwise you can expect an extra 40 dollars on your travel costs and some serious concern for your G.I. tract. Seriously, the stuff's nastiness is completely untamed by train's microwaves.

I ended up getting to the station after the train was sealed up, but I was able to beg my way on in the nick of time. Then a tree hit the train. I always thought that trees were stationary, but apparently that's not the case in Montana. Duct taping / Repairing the damage to the train tacked on another three hours to the original 36, and subsequent delays had us rolling into MSP about an hour after my plane had taken off for New York. The tree also messed up a phone interview I was supposed to have on the train by stopping the train in one of Montana's numerous black holes of cellular service. Luckily, my school had also chartered a second plane I was able to sneak on and the tutoring agency accepts malicious trees as an excuse for missing an appointment. I made it safe and sound to my hotel and probably get to look forward to tutoring high schoolers struggling to stay afloat.

After all I'd gone though to get to the conference, I decided I needed to make the most of it, though I found that was harder than it seemed. To give you an idea, Ithaca college is roughly the size of wow and the buildings tend to look like the future. With over a thousand attendees, the oral presentations had to be held during class in multiple buildings. This made it challenging to pick and choose what speeches I wanted to see, as they were usually far apart and congested with both presenters and normal Ithaca students. I ended up running around a lot more than I should have in dress clothes trying to bounce between social science, criminal science, and biology presentations. Occasionally, the presentations were too packed to get in (strangely, that happened a lot with the criminal science presentations) so I had time to check out the art exhibits or the gym that had about 60 posters being presented at any given time. Honestly, the posters may have been my favorite part.

Of all the ways to present something, I think posters are probably the best for undergraduate work. From a reader's perspective, you can easily see if you are going to be interested in what is being presented while having unique access to the researcher. From a presenter's perspective, it allows you the most flexibility to tailor your words to your audience and I think it's a lot more exciting to do. You don't really get any of those benefits with speeches. Most people at an undergraduate conference are going to have very diverse backgrounds and attention spans, even if they do understand what you're saying, they might find out in the first five minutes that they'd rather be listening to someone else. Sadly, this happened a lot for me. If they weren't completely over my head, they were completely under it.

The only reason I tried to go to as many oral presentations that I did was that I'd never really seen any by undergraduate researchers before. Granted, there were also some poster presenters that had to be reeeeel bored. A surprising number of people were either uninteresting or were only presenting preliminary research and planning. I'm really not trying to seem pretentious, but it made me wonder just how far undergraduate research has to go. Maybe it's unfair to compare other's work with my own, but there was at least half a year of hard work backing up my poster. I actually had found something and had something to say. When I wasn't talking about research, I was promoting the trip and the Gilman Scholarship. Most importantly, I still had questions I wanted to answer and was able to learn new possible routes of discovery by talking with my fellow researchers. Perhaps I'm being to critical, but I think if you're flying half-way across the country to a national conference, you should at least have something concrete to show for it.

I'm over it. Besides, there was some pretty awesome work there. One group at the University of Minnesota did a pilot study of a chiropractic remedy for peanut allergy, wherein they found that while the blood chemistry of the subjects (n=6) did not change, they were able to eat peanuts after 6 weeks. Basically, the mechanism of allergic reactions, even anaphylaxis, is more complex than we thought. Another cool project was done by an University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire student who analyzed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and concluded that it was ineffective in smoothing over racial tensions that remained after the end of apartheid. One of my favorite projects was probably the criminal science presentation I saw about the CSI effect and it's apparently negligible effect on jury voting. One of my karate instructors was a prosecutor for my county and he had talked about it as a big concern nowadays, so it was nice to hear that the research indicates that jurors are still voting as they normally do.

Now I'm focusing on getting a job. After three months of nothing, suddenly I've an interview at a restaurant on Friday and I get to call back the people at Best Buy when the train roams out into somewhere where my phone gets service. All this is on top of the tutoring gig, a possible job as a temp lab tech (which I almost certainly would have got if I still lived in River Falls – go figure), and, most interestingly, an opportunity to teach yoga and taichi. A local school put an ad up on craigslist and offered scholarships to anyone who is interested in learning and helping them expand into new areas. That last one might take a while, but I'm seriously excited about it. Not only is a great background for naturopathic medicine, but this is one of those things I've wanted to do in the back of my head for a long while.

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