Tag Archives: master students

Five Reasons why you should attend the Annual SACNAS National Conference

27 Apr

Guest post by: Bridget Hansen, SFSU undergraduate researcher

BridgetHansenPosterSACNAS2015

First, who am I? What is SACNAS?

My name is Bridget Hansen and I am an undergraduate in Microbiology at San Francisco State University, doing research at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies. Over the summer, I participated in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Excellent Research Opportunity Program (HHMI-ExROP) summer research and the AMGEN program at the University of California, Berkeley. I worked on a project that I then presented at the SACNAS Conference this past October.

SACNAS stands for the Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. This society, made up of many successful Chicanos and Native Americans in science related careers, puts on a national conference once a year. The conference has opportunities for scientists at all levels, from undergraduates to professors and researchers. Many graduate school recruiters and other professional organizations come to this conference to recruit, providing a great platform for networking.

I used this opportunity to network for graduate schools! I will be attending a PhD program in the fall, in part, thanks to my interactions that I had at SACNAS.

What happens at the SACNAS National Conference?

Students from all over the country submit abstracts for the opportunity to present their work, either in the form of a poster or an oral presentation. The students had a scheduled time and room to present. Other than presentations, the meat of the conference was geared towards guest speakers and networking. The whole goal of the conference was to introduce young students to the world of research and science related careers! The best part is the graduate student recruiter booths where you have the opportunity to chat with recruiters, professors, and students from that university.

Five reasons why I recommend SACNAS

  1. The networking

There were hundreds of booths set up, all stocked with professors, recruiters, graduate students and pamphlets listing the reasons why you should come to their school. Nearly every research institution was in attendance, looking for the next round of graduate students to apply to their programs. They want you to apply to their programs but most importantly, they want to make sure their school lines up with your research interests. You can ask them about the programs, the application process, what it is like to live in that part of the United States and any funding opportunities. Exchanging business cards or information is very common and the badge that you are given upon arriving even has a scanner square that the recruiters can use to keep in touch with you (they scan your badge and your e-mail is logged with them).

I spoke to over a dozen booths about their programs and had all my questions answered. I was even recruited during my poster session presentation! Which brings me to my next point.

  1. The presentations

The presentations are great for two reasons: 1. You have an opportunity to talk about your work and receive feedback on your presentation skills and 2. Other schools can come by your presentation and see you as a researcher. This is fantastic! I am not the best on paper in some ways, so having other schools approach me based on my science, reassures me that I am more than just my GPA or my GRE scores. Not only that, I received written evaluations based on my presentation skills and my poster, which were all constructive and positive!

  1. The seminars

The guest speakers focus on their journeys as minorities in the sciences and how their transforming experiences have brought them to where they are today. They inspire us to continue to pursue our passions and create a sense of community, which I will get to in a minute. The seminars are also great opportunities for junior scientists, like myself, because they offer an opportunity to check out new areas of research, hear about different paths in science outside of academia and get insights into how to be successful. There are workshops on how to give a compelling interview, what to expect in graduate school and how to master networking. All of these skills are important ones that give you a competitive edge.

  1. The experience

The experience itself was wonderful. Surrounded by 3,600 other students, mentors and researchers, the conference felt grand. I say grand because the conference center was massive, the sheer number of attendees was at times, a bit overwhelming, and the hotel that we were assigned to left me in awe. The Gaylord National Conference Center in Washington D.C. was an incredible place to hold this conference this year. As apart of the conference fees, we were fed in a large hall, which also created a sense of community.

  1. The sense of community

The SACNAS conference creates a sense of community for young scientists; a community that they can be a part of throughout their careers in the sciences. The idea of having a supportive community that I can be part of is a great feeling, especially coming from a background that does not have any college graduates. It can be lonely sometimes, walking into a completely new field that no one you grew up around, has any experience in. So, when I attended the conference with other San Francisco State students who were also presenting, they immediately considered me one of the group, even though we had just met. Similarly, other students from other places also welcomed conversation with open arms. The inclusion that occurs at SACNAS is excellent.

Overall, I highly recommend attending a SACNAS national conference. It looks great on your CV, it is great for your future scientific career and definitely gives you an edge when applying for graduate school. Bring your own business cards!

If you have any questions about SACNAS, please refer to the SACNAS website: http://sacnas.org .

Hope to see you there next year! I will be attending as a graduate student!

Feel free to contact me with questions at: blhansen “at” mail.sfsu.edu or missbridgette4 “at” aol.com. and indicate you read this blog so I know where the questions are coming from!

 

SACNAS

A reading seminar where every student reads, writes and contributes to the discussion in class

16 Jan

I remember reading seminars as follows: one student spends the entire week preparing for a powerpoint presentation, which often turns out to be stressful for the student and somewhat boring and uninformative for the audience. The other students only glanced over the paper and so any discussion quickly falls flat. I therefore decided to have multiple short presentations without powerpoint (less preparation, more fun to listen to, plus repetition is good for learning a skill). I also decided to use short writing assignments as homework to make sure that all students were prepared to contribute to the discussion in class. At the same time, I wanted to keep things manageable for everyone.

1. Learning to present: every student does multiple short presentations without powerpoint.

No powerpoint: I didn’t want students to spend too much time preparing a presentation. I believe that often, when students spend a lot of time preparing presentations, they focus too much on making powerpoint slides and not enough on informing the audience and telling a story.

Short presentations: Doing an engaging 45 minute presentation is extremely difficult, and a skill that most postdoc don’t have, so why do we use 45 minute presentations in our graduate seminars? I decided in stead to let each student do three 10 minute presentations.

Feedback: After each presentation the presenters got feedback (from the other students and myself), so that they could improve their presentation skills during the semester.

Easy listening: An added benefit of 10 minute presentations is that it is much easier for the audience. Each week started with three student presentations, one on the background and main question of the paper, one on the data and the results of the paper, and one on the conclusion and implications of the paper.

2. Practice writing: every student does a different writing assignment every week.

Graded homework each week: A paper discussion can only work if people have read the paper. If students don’t read, they may spend most of their energy to try to hide that they didn’t read (I know I was in that situation!). So even though I understand that life and research get in the way of reading, I really wanted to make sure that the students were prepared for the seminar. To do that, I made every student do a written assignment every week that would count towards their grade (unless they were presenting that week).

A different assignment for each student: I had a long list of assignments so that each week, many different assignments were done AND so that over the course of the semester each student did many different assignments. This guaranteed that the students read the paper, but each with a different question in mind.

There were several types of written assignments. Descriptive: 1. Describe the background and main question of the paper, 2. describe the data and the results, 3. describe the conclusions, 4. describe which virus the paper is about. Critical: 5. What is your opinion of the paper? 6. What do you think the authors should have done differently? 7. Play the devil’s advocate: why should the paper not have been published? Summaries: 8. Summarize the paper in your own words, as if writing to a friend, 9. summarize the paper using only the most common 1000 words of the English language, 10. summarize the paper in a graphical abstract, 11. summarize the paper in a tweet. Meta: 12. Who are the authors of the paper? 13. How often is the paper cited, do you think it is influential?

Short! Each written assignment could not be more than 150 words, to keep the workload manageable for me and for the students.

Surprisingly hard: Some of the assignments were harder than the others. Summarizing the paper using only the 1000 most common words from the English language turned out to be very hard, but some of the students did a great job (see here and here). The graphical abstract was also hard for some students, but others liked it just because it was so different from their usual work (see here and here). The ”devil’s advocate” writing assignment was always very interesting to read.

Easy: Grading the written assignments was quite easy. I simply gave a plus or minus for 5 categories (answered the question, scientific accuracy, clarity, grammar and word count).

Revisions allowed: After a request from a student, I decided that the students could redo any assignment where they had gotten less than 100% because I believe that feedback is most useful when it can be applied to a revision.

3. Promoting equity: thanks to the written assignments, every student could contribute to every class.

Everyone contributes: One of the nice things about the homework schedule with different assignments for everyone is that in class, I could ask each student about their homework. This way, each student contributed to the class, promoting equity, and the brief discussions of the homework assignments always let to questions from other students. Even if I didn’t ask, some students would volunteer to share information they found while they researched for their homework. For example, I remember someone remarking at the end of a presentation: “In your presentation, you said this result may be very important, but I found that the paper hardly has any citations even though it was published ten years ago, so I think it may not have been picked up by anyone.”

Sharing homework: I also encouraged the students to share their written assignments on the online forum we had for the class, so that the other students (and not just me) could read them. Sometimes they led to interesting forum threads. I also published some of the written assignments on my blog, after asking the students for permission. This way even more people could enjoy them.