Students presenting papers at undergraduate research conferences gain perspective on the true purpose of their work

Presenting a research paper or argumentative essay in front of a class of your peers is one thing, but what about sharing your work with a body of strangers who have gathered specifically to hear from leading undergraduate writers and researchers?

Both senior English major Mikayla Hamilton and senior history major Johnnie Crawford recently presented papers they wrote for class at undergraduate conferences. Hamilton presented her paper analyzing the success of foreign language music in the United States, “Breaking into Your Heart Like That: America’s ‘Butter’-Soft Heart for Foreign Artists,” at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium (SNCURCS), while Crawford presented “Facing Fear,” a paper he wrote about the usage of the human visage in horror movies and scary stories, at the Blue Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference (BRURC).

The conferences feature undergraduate speakers and performers who share their work through posters, presentations, performances, works of art, and more. SNCURCS, hosted by Wingate University, invites students from colleges, universities, and community colleges throughout the state of North Carolina to share their work, while King University’s BRURC expands to higher education institutions throughout the Southern Appalachian region.

“It was the first time I gave a presentation where I didn’t feel super, super nervous, because it wasn’t for a grade, it was for fun,” Hamilton said. “Everyone in the audience was there because they wanted to hear. I’ve given three presentations at Lees-McRae since then and I feel like I’ve done so much better.”

Hamilton said she was interested in attending and presenting at the conference because she saw it as an opportunity to expand her horizons and engage with students who have different mindsets and experiences than her own. Since the conference was an aspect of academia she hadn’t previously experienced, Hamilton believes that familiarizing herself with the conference structure and building her public speaking skills through presentations of her work will serve her well as she begins her final semester of her undergraduate career.

Since her experience presenting at SNCURCS, she has been thinking more about the value of her work and where she will find meaning after graduation once she is no longer working toward a specific letter grade.

“It made me think about what’s important; is it the grade or is it the content?” Hamilton said. “How do I value my work? What is the point of it? Is it whatever letter the listener assigns to it? No, it’s the questions I get from the audience that make me think about it more.”

Crawford agreed that taking questions from the audience was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience because it demonstrated their genuine engagement with the topic and inspired him to think about his own ideas in new ways. He said this new foray into the world of academia at BRURC prepared him to engage with different lines of thinking and taught him a lot both as a presenter and as an audience member.

“There was a guy that asked a question that was very interesting and just added onto the whole presentation. At the end there was about a five-minute period of questions. It was very nice to be able to get that feedback,” Crawford said. “A conference definitely prepares you for an atmosphere of mutualistic academics. I think it puts you in a mindset of respect because each person has put a lot of work into their subject. It prepares you to speak to people who have no idea who you are, and you have no idea who they are.”

Both Hamilton and Crawford agreed that their experiences presenting at SNCURCS and BRURC broadened their perspectives on their academic pursuits and prepared them to interact with other academics after they graduate. In addition, the opportunity to share their research and thoughts on a topic of personal interest was rewarding and pushed them to value their academic pursuits beyond the immediate validation of a specific grade.

By Maya JarrellJanuary 11, 2024