PhD Students Showcase Research Work to World in Online Poster Competition
The Office of Research took its Research Showcase Poster Competition online due to the pandemic, adding a new twist by allowing internet viewers to vote for the winner in real time.
The biannual contest focuses on a different University of Texas at Dallas school each semester; this fourth iteration featured doctoral students from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS). The overall winner of the July 31 event was Debora Calderon, a doctoral student in the Neurobiology of Memory Lab, directed by associate professor Dr. Christa McIntyre of the Department of Neuroscience. The webcast was emceed by associate professor Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz of the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing.
“More than ever before, society needs scientific leaders who have strong and effective communication skills,” said Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research and professor of bioengineering. “This competition is not only aimed at showcasing our exceptional PhD students, but also demonstrating how they can explain underlying concepts, findings and the impact of their work to a general audience.”
Each of the 17 initial participants submitted a 5-to-7-minute presentation video. A panel of judges narrowed the field to five finalists, announced by Dr. Steven Small, BBS dean, on July 23. A total of $1,000 in prize money was awarded to the five finalists, with Calderon receiving $500.
“Posters are part and parcel of what students do as part of their research presentations at conferences around the world,” Small said. “Building a poster correctly and being able to articulate your science is extremely important to the success of a doctoral student.”
The finalists’ areas of research range from autism intervention strategies to how cancer treatments affect hearing ability. Calderon’s winning presentation concerned the fine-tuning of the autonomic nervous system via vagus nerve stimulation to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Getting to present in the Research Showcase Poster Competition was exhilarating and challenging,” Calderon said. “This experience allowed me to hone and shape the crucial skills of communicating complex ideas into a unified story and conveying that information in everyday language for a diverse audience.”
The showcase also serves to encapsulate the spectrum of work underway in BBS — and the quality of the students who attend UT Dallas, said Small, the Aage and Margareta Møller Distinguished Professor in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
“The showcase was an innovative way for the students to present their research to the world,” said BBS alumna Nicole Tucker BA’04, one of the three judges for the finals. “Using modern-day technology, students, professors, family and friends around the globe are able to see the groundbreaking research from UT Dallas students.”
“More than ever before, society needs scientific leaders who have strong and effective communication skills. This competition is not only aimed at showcasing our exceptional PhD students, but also demonstrating how they can explain underlying concepts, findings and the impact of their work to a general audience.”
Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research
Moving the competition online garnered more than 100 unique viewers from 38 different cities in six countries. For Olga Peskova, who studies the development of communication in children with cochlear implants, it was a chance for her family in Russia to see her at work.
“I came to UT Dallas from St. Petersburg to pursue my degree in the field of cochlear implantation. My great passion is to improve communication outcomes in children with hearing loss,” said Peskova, a doctoral student in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing who has worked in the Speech Perception Laboratory of professor Dr. Peter Assmann. “My family and friends from all over the world were watching the competition and cheering me on while also learning about my research.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every corner of campus activity, including ongoing research. But Pancrazio stressed that advances are still being made and events are still occurring at UT Dallas, even where modified formats are necessary.
“Events like this show that we continue to explore innovative ways to engage the world in the exciting science our PhD students perform at UT Dallas,” he said.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].