Taking students to the ACS meeting? Mix structure with freedom.

Will you be at ACS San Francisco? So will we! In this post, Dr. Joe Reczek shares some great advice on how to make the most of an ACS meeting for the undergraduates you are bringing along…


acs-2017-additional-image

For most undergraduates, their first exposure to a National ACS conference can be overwhelming. It can also be overwhelming for faculty trying to decide how best to Photo Feb 21, 9 47 33 PMintroduce undergraduates to a conference that’s so large with so many sessions and opportunities.
I have taken approximately 10 students (4-5 who are members of my own research group) to the Spring ACS meeting for the last several years, and, during this time, I’ve figured out that a good way to help students get the most out of the experience is to provide a mix of structure and freedom.

I’ve figured out that a good way to help students get the most out of the experience is to provide a mix of structure and freedom

Allow for exploration

First, it’s important not to schedule every second of the students’ time. Part of the beauty of attending the conference is that it is a unique opportunity to experience the breadth and scope of our discipline(s) in a limited time and space that is not matched by anything else they will experience in their undergraduate career. For example, making sure students have unscheduled time to wander the floor of the expo allows them to see not only the variety of equipment and instrumentation used in the field, but also the different types of employers from instrument companies to text book publishers. This year I’ve told my students to go check out a number of HPLCs, something our department is interested in acquiring.

I typically encourage students to attend the awards talks of various divisions…because they usually represent a high caliber of research (which can be difficult for undergraduates to judge for themselves)

What talks to highlight?

In terms of attending talks, I encourage students to choose the ones they would like to attend. However, I provide a number of suggestions to help them select these. Photo Feb 21, 9 47 43 PMI typically encourage students to attend the awards talks of various divisions, both because they usually represent a high caliber of research (which can be difficult for undergraduates to judge for themselves) and because these talks tend to present more introduction while having a broader scope, making them more accessible for undergraduates as apposed to most general sessions. I will also search the program for talks by researchers that I know personally or by reputation for being good communicators, selecting 8-10. For example, if I see a talk by Geoff Coates on the program, I recommend they attend because I think he’s a great chemist and speaker, and also my former undergraduate mentor. In addition, Geoff happens to be a polymer chemist, which is an area of chemistry to which many undergraduates don’t get a lot of exposure. I also point out the variety of undergraduate programming available (typically on Sundays): There are sessions on applying for graduate school, writing a resume, etc., that most students will find beneficial.

When to require attendance?

Photo Feb 21, 9 47 38 PMIn addition to the talks the students choose, I also require their
attendance at two other events in addition to attending whatever session they are presenting in. I choose one of the afternoon plenary talks and require everyone to attend as a group. In recent years, the Kalvi lecture series has been an excellent choice because of the prestige and quality of the speakers (get there early to save seats!). We then all walk together to a local restaurant for a group dinner that includes all of the students and faculty attending from my university. This is a highlight of the trip for many, and we always make sure to take a picture!

I want them to enjoy their experience without having to focus on completing an assignment.

One thing that may surprise some readers is that I do not require students to write a paper about attended talks or their time at the conference. I want them to enjoy their experience without having to focus on completing an assignment. That being said, I do set clear expectations that the trip is not just about enjoying themselves in a new city.

The mix of structure and freedom I suggest above is designed not only to maximize the student experience but also to make sure you get what you want out of the meeting – you shouldn’t spend all of your time worrying about your students. Remember, this meeting is for you too!


~ Dr. Joe Reczek is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Denison University in Granville, OH. Research in the Reczek group spans several areas of Organic and Materials Chemistry, including Organic Synthesis, Supramolecular Chemistry, Crystal and Liquid Crystal design, and Organic Photovoltaics. They are broadly interested in the design, synthesis, and study of molecules which self-assemble, via non-covalent interactions, to exhibit new and unique properties. These properties are studies for potential application in new materials, specifically in the areas of molecular electronics and photovoltaics.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s