Adapted from Connie O’Hearn’s article. Used with permission.
The importance of undergraduate research was highlighted when Johnson State College (JSC) students Heather Murphy, Shayna Bennett, and Shavonna Bent, along with professor Dr. Elizabeth Dolci, traveled to Doha, Qatar, in November 2016 to take part in the First International World Congress on Undergraduate Research.
How did this trip all come about? A recent JSC graduate suggested the students attend the conference, which prompted them to submit a joint abstract on their research.
According to Bent, their projects focused on profiling the characteristics of the aquatic bacterial community at the Vermont Asbestos Group mine. “Our question was fairly simple; how have humans impacted [the aquatic bacterial] community in comparison to other nearby sites? Our team asked if the bacteria isolated were resistant to heavy metals, resistant to antibiotics and if any produced antibiotics. We found that a few isolates did display all three characteristics. Moving forward we would like to determine levels of heavy metals and antibiotics that the bacteria are resistant to, and if they produce any novel antibiotics,” said Bent.
The group received travel funds through the Vermont Genetics Network, JSC and the National Science Foundation’s START grant. The conference, which featured students from the Middle East, the United States, Australia and Europe, took place at Qatar University. Murphy said that they prepared a poster for their presentation, and were allowed a one-hour time slot to present and to take questions from their audience.
When asked if it was a positive experience, everyone agreed that the trip was exceptional. “It showed me how similar students are regardless of where they come from and what culture they come from,” said Dolci.
According to Murphy, conferences such as these also provide undergraduate students with the necessary experience they need. “If a student wants to go to graduate school, undergraduate research is key,” said Murphy.
The second World Congress on Undergraduate Research is scheduled in Oldenburg, Germany on May 23-25, 2019.