Undergraduate students present their work at research symposium

| Staff Writer

Jimmy Hu | Student Life

Hundreds of members of the Washington University community attended a biannual undergraduate research symposium hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research, April 25. The event, held in Frick Forum in Bauer Hall, showcased the research that undergraduates engaged in during the semester.

During poster sessions, over 200 undergraduates explained the results of their research with fellow students and researchers in the Washington University community. A diverse range of research was displayed, situated largely within the social and natural sciences.

Sophomore Maya Irvine presented a research project on the effects of the plant hormone auxin on a plant pathogen. Irvine works in Dr. Barbara Kunkel’s lab, a professor teaches the first of two introductory biology courses at WashU.

“It’s been really exciting to present my research,” Irvine said. “This event has been a great opportunity to interact with different researchers, and it’s a happy end to a lot of hard work.”

Some students presented as a requirement for a class they were taking, while others volunteered on behalf of the labs in which they worked. 

“It was a bit of an impulsive decision to present,” Irvine added. “I wanted some way to show my research, and this has been a fun way to do that.”

Sophomore Hrishi Kousik discussed the fulfillment he found in the research process while working with Dr. Devesha Kulkarni, an Assistant Professor in Medicine. Kousik studied the microbial composition of the guts of obese individuals with and without metabolic diseases.

“We get such a surface-level understanding from introductory classes,” Kousik said. “There’s so much benefit to getting more specific through research.”

Kousik added that he felt motivated by the symposium when he was conducting research.

“It forced me to do deeper research,” he said. “I originally just wanted the research experience, but presenting has helped [to] push me [farther].”

The research displayed at the event spanned several fields, primarily including biology labs in the medical field — though some psychological research was spotlighted.

Senior Lindsay Lipman presented at the symposium as a part of her honors thesis for Psychology. Her research concerned the relationship between increased caregiver monitoring and control over young children and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

“This research really gave me a better understanding of what underlying causes there might be for OCD,” Lipman said. “I am hoping to be a clinical psychologist and [to] see where this research goes in the future.”

Some undergraduate researchers explained that the process of researching helped them disprove biases about the field in which they worked. Kousik, whose research on obesity clarified a difference between being metabolically healthy and unhealthy while having obesity, explained how his research broke stereotypes for him.

“Seminal research shows that obesity and metabolic disease are not the same,” Kousik said. “It’s easy to think that obesity simply means unhealthy, but that’s really not true.”

Research projects also varied in success. Although some projects did not achieve the data that researchers desired, individuals who worked on these projects explained that results that do not support the hypothesis of the project are still relevant work.

Brooke Zimmerman, who studied the effect of parental separation on sleep deprivation and depression for her own Psychology honors thesis, talked about her experience working on a project that did not prove part of its hypothesis.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Spoiler alert, the data isn’t significant,’” Zimmerman said. The project was able to establish a connection between sleep deprivation and depression severity, but could not correlate sleep deprivation to parental separation. She added that she still believed that going through the process of researching made the lack of a desired result worth the effort. 

Freshman Isabelle Field, who is working in Dr. Kunkel’s lab, shared Zimmerman’s sentiment.

“Even if you don’t get good results, it’s exciting to work on something [that’s] never [been] done before,” Field said. “This is especially true when there are so many implications to the research you’re doing.”

Freshman Tiffany Zhu, who worked with Field on a research project concerning the plant hormone auxin’s role in gene regulation, mentioned feeling nervous about presenting in the symposium, but added that practice sessions helped her gain confidence.

“It’s a little intimidating to present, but I [felt] well-prepared,” Zhu added. “We don’t need every answer — that’s research.”

Despite the nerves, Zhu and others presenting at the symposium saw it as a moment of pride.

“It’s so rewarding to be able to talk about the hard work we’ve done,” Zhu said. “We all want to make an impact.” 

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