Where can you meet other colleagues investing in undergraduate research, get ideas, share your challenges and get energized for the summer-research season? The CUR biennial conference! In this post, Dr. Bridget Gourley shares her personal reflections on the value of a CUR conference.
I just finished reading Prof. Keri Colabroy’s (Muhlenberg College) blog post about her perspective shift regarding grant writing that resulted from hearing Jeff Osborn, Dean of the College of Science at TCNJ during CUR Dialogues in February. Timed with a note in my email reminding us about the upcoming early registration deadline (April 25) for CUR’s biennial National Conference, it occurred to me the perfect time to write a more general post about the value of CUR conferences.
In my second or third year as a faculty member, a wise dean forwarded me the flyer for the CUR National Conference. Back in those days, those flyers came US mail on paper. I took the dean’s note as more than a hint, practically a directive that I should go. So off I went to Hope College that June, now long ago, returning to dorm life for a couple days, as I assumed my institution would only spring for the cheapest option. It was entertaining and a useful reminder of the student experience to realize that you have to coordinate with your hall mates to be sure everyone isn’t going for the showers at exactly the same time yet all are able to get to the first event of the day in a timely fashion, to see how utilitarian a room is when you don’t plan to stay long so you don’t bring posters and other personalizing extras along, etc. but that is another post for different blog.
I found, not sessions where someone talked at me as often happens at large disciplinary conference, but active engaging sessions addressing practical issues with suggestions I could go home and implement immediately.
My experience at the conference was transformative, just like undergraduate research is for our students. I’d go so far as to say it helped keep me in the profession. I found, not sessions where someone talked at me as often happens at large disciplinary conference, but active engaging sessions addressing practical issues with suggestions I could go home and implement immediately. Face-to-face dialogue where we discussed scenarios, real and imagined, ideas about how to address the issues were abundant. I enjoyed the seamless connections between classroom and laboratory course work that represented best practices for students and fed my scholarly interests with the research experience and preparation of students. I was awakened to the importance about the national conversations surrounding higher education particularly, as applied to the undergraduate research experience. I learned about a wealth of funding opportunities beyond the narrow single investigator grant NSF or NIH that I might be able to leverage to achieve individual or institutional goals. I was exposed the wealth of educational and policy literature that hadn’t been a been a forefront of my graduate training, which was all about science.
I was awakened to the importance about the national conversations surrounding higher education particularly, as applied to the undergraduate research experience.
Conversations I had while waiting in the dining hall line, during a break between sessions or while brushing our teeth in the dorm, introduced me to an entire community of like-minded colleagues, who cared deeply about their scholarly work, meaningful experiences for students, high quality teaching, doing professional service and maintaining work life balance. It was a place where I felt safe asking “how do you juggle all of it”.
All of a sudden I had collection of colleagues at similar institutions with similar challenges that could provide perspective and help me see creative solutions. The CUR conference gave me outstanding practical content as well as colleagues beyond my institution over a wide variety of disciplines. I was pointed toward resources that would allow me to pitch ideas to my institution more effectively.
Conversations I had …introduced me to an entire community of like-minded colleagues, who cared deeply about their scholarly work, meaningful experiences for students, high quality teaching, doing professional service and maintaining work life balance.
I had such an energizing experience that I asked my institution to support my travel to the next conference two years later at Bates College. At that meeting, I had the luck of being reintroduced to a graduate school classmate after agreeing to a random roommate assignment (another great story for another time). I decided when I got tenure I’d volunteer to be a CUR Councilor and support the organization that was providing so much to me. Much of my service has been directed towards CUR conferences because they have been so beneficial to me, hosting one on my own campus, DePauw University and co-chairing the program committee for the last biennial in 2014.
During my time as a councilor, CUR has expanded from an organization built around the sciences at primarily undergraduate institutions to a faculty development organization for all types of institutions and all disciplines. But the core mission of CUR remains the same: develop faculty to provide transformative, mentored, undergraduate research experiences regardless of institutional resources. The CUR National Conference is an incredibly useful development event for faculty, program directors and administrators. The conference is a forum for the many conversations that surround research with undergraduates across all disciplines and at all types of institutions: community colleges, private liberal arts colleges, regional comprehensive and research institutions.
This year’s CUR National Conference
Serving on the planning committee and having reviewed abstracts for both oral sessions and posters, I can say with complete certainty, we will have the opportunity to learn from a wide range of colleagues across the country about individual and programmatic ways to support our endeavors and maintain our sanity.
This June the theme for the CUR National Conference is Advancing Undergraduate Research: Collaboration and Innovation in a Global Society. The adventure takes us to University of South Florida. Serving on the planning committee and having reviewed abstracts for both oral sessions and posters I can say with complete certainty we will have the opportunity to learn from a wide range of colleagues across the country about individual and programmatic ways to support our endeavors and maintain our sanity. Information about how to assess whether our approaches achieve the goals described in the rhetoric about undergraduate research is on the program. Examples of successful strategies abound. We’ve included ideas for expanding opportunities with those perpetually limited resources: time and money. Effective practices to welcome many types of diversity into our work, internationalization, innovation and collaboration are all highlights of the program. Keynote speakers, such as Tia Brown McNair at AACU and David Asai with HHMI will touch on national issues that impact that higher education undergraduate research landscape. CUR continues to expand the styles and formats for sessions. We will have short 20-30 minute power packed opportunities to longer workshops and poster sessions. I hope to see you there!
~Bridget Gourley is a Chair of the Faculty and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at DePauw University. She has been a CUR Councilor for over 20 years. A theoretical physical chemist by training, she and her students use reverse micelle’s to study water in confined environment and probe location in lipid boundaries. She is looking forward to catching up with and expanding what has become a big part of her professional family during the CUR National Conference.