[Emily Gajda posing with her research poster at the Northeast Regional Meeting of the Geological Society of America in March 2015]
On Halloween six of the seven full-time faculty members and eleven students from the Geological Sciences Department at CCSU will travel to Baltimore, Maryland to attend the National Meeting of the Geological Society of America. While we are proud that all of the faculty members will be presenting original research at the conference, we are even more thrilled that seven of the students will be as well. If you visited the department right now you would sense the excitement – and the panic – as the oral presentations are polished and poster presentations are printed out. It’s a high adrenaline and high caffeine time for all involved, especially because there are still classes to be taught and attended and other personal and academic responsibilities to be met at the same time.
But despite the sacrificed sleep and inevitable battles with technology, preparing to take students to a professional conference is one of the most satisfying parts of a professor’s job. This is because some of the most authentic and life-changing learning does not take place in the classroom, but in the laboratory or library. It is here that students learn to become scientists or education researchers. This is where they become the expert, and enjoy the thrill of discovery, as well as deal with the pain of procrastination and equipment that does not always cooperate.
But the learning does not end with the specific problem investigated. Many of these students work in teams, or at the very least share lab space or equipment. Learning how to become part of a scientific team simply cannot be taught in the classroom. You have to live the experience (with its inevitable frustrations). Finally, you need to communicate what you have learned to professionals in the field. The GSA meetings are not undergraduate research conferences. In fact, undergraduate research represents a fraction of the 1000s of presentations. It can be nerve-racking to have an international expert in the field ask you questions about your research. Sometimes they are polite; other times, well, you get the idea. Learning to deal with these high-pressure situations, to be confident in your own abilities and to take constructive criticism gracefully, is a valuable life lesson, regardless of your future plans.
A number of our former students have made powerful, positive impressions on professionals and graduate school faculty through their presentations at GSA meetings, which translated into job opportunities and graduate school admissions. So while we all try to catch our breath this week during this frantic end to what in some cases has been a year-long journey of discovery, we know that come Sunday our students are going to shine!