SURF 2023 Highlights Student Summer Research
Students gathered on campus this August for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fair (SURF), where they shared the research they’d conducted over the summer term. Supported by faculty supervisors, family, friends, and teammates, presenters from across disciplines displayed findings on bright posters across the Instructional Building atrium, and via engaging three-minute rapid talks.
Hosted annually by the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research (OVPR), this year’s event welcomed nearly 300 attendees, which included 16 oral presenters and more than 100 posters.
Opening remarks were delivered by Kent Moore, Vice-Principal, Research and professor in the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences. “That excitement that I felt doing research for the first time has survived a long time,” he shared, addressing the room. “And, frankly, it’s one of the things that inspires me to get up every morning.”
“I love to see other people getting that research bug as well, so hopefully many of you here today will pick up that bug. It will change your future career path.”
“We want SURF to be an opportunity for students to experience what it’s like to present their work at conferences,” says OVPR director and SURF MC, Payam Zahedi, who helped organize the event. “It’s important that they learn how to share research findings in a way that’s accessible way to an audience — which may include people from other disciplines and backgrounds.”
“It’s also a great networking opportunity,” he adds. “They can see what fellow students are working on and learn how other disciplines conduct research and work together.”
Research topics included everything from understanding the benefits of urban trees and developing the next generation of cancer protein drugs to exploring how infants adapt to unfamiliar accents and the effects of fonts on reading speeds.
After the talks, guests wandered the poster display – which included fan favourite, robot Franka Panda – and students explained their work and answered questions. During lunch, there was time to chat with fellow students and exhibitors, which included staff from the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC), the UTM Library, and the Career Centre.
“It was my first experience at a research fair, and it turned out to be truly remarkable,” says Ansh Agrawal, a student in the Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences. Agrawal shared how his research team is working to incorporate accessibility content into core computer science classes. “I got a chance to give a presentation in front of a large audience and was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response.”
“This interaction not only boosted my confidence but also offered me a platform to share my passion for research and learning.”
The event also featured two keynote speakers: Alison Syme, Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Studies, spoke to the audience on “Reconceiving the Victorian Artist”; and Psychology professor Christina Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden shared her work on music and language processing in a talk titled, “Music, language, and busy sound scenes: How do we develop expertise for communicating with others?”
Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden had a number of students present research at SURF this year, and she was happy to see them come together to celebrate and demonstrate their hard work over the summer.
“I especially love seeing their excitement after their presentations,” she says. “They're riding high because they can see their progress in the rearview mirror and have just talked with folks outside the lab about new ideas and applications of their work. It is such a great opportunity!"
Syme agrees. “I was impressed by the enthusiastic spirit of collective endeavour that characterized the event,” she reflects, noting that the student presentations were sharp, well-designed, and engaging. “And the students I asked about their posters were equally articulate. The level of undergraduate research on this campus is remarkable.”
“I am so glad to be a part of undergrad-specific events because they showcase the incredible breadth of research UTM faculty are working on,” says Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden. “This year was especially fun for me because the keynotes showcased that the arts can be front and centre in research, too.”
“The undergrad version of me would have loved to see this,” she adds. “Sessions like these illustrate how research is key to moving a field forward regardless of the discipline.”
We look forward to welcoming student researcher, faculty members, and guests to next year's Summer Undergraduate Research Fair! SURF 2024 will take place next August.