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RURS splits into school-specific research showcases

Lily Remington / Thresher

By Nayeli Shad     3/5/24 9:50pm

The spring 2024 Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium has been replaced with new events specifically for the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

RURS is an annual research symposium hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry since 2002. RURS previously housed oral and poster presentations for engineering, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences research. In 2023, OURI hosted additional events the week of RURS highlighting student academic projects in different departments, which has expanded this year to two Inquiry Weeks

The first annual Humanities Day will take place April 9, while the first Social Sciences Undergraduate Research Showcase and Natural Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium will each happen April 11.

Abby Schuh, the associate director of OURI, said RURS was divided into multiple events to offer more flexibility and presentation opportunities for non-STEM students.

“Our office was looking to create a more inclusive event that represented the wide range of research design and creative work that was happening on campus,” Schuh said. “The undergraduate research symposium was a great poster session for … STEM students or STEM-adjacent students. There were a few social science students and some humanities students, but it was a more difficult format for those students, especially in the humanities.”

Hannah Li, a head peer research ambassador, was a 2023 RURS co-chair. She said that while RURS brought together students from many fields of research, its logistical constraints made it hard to cater to different kinds of presentations.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that there’s no singular defined event [this year] where all of campus can come together and share their research and students can get more exposure between different events just through being in the same space,” Li, a Wiess College junior, said. “But I also think it’s good that having the different departments oversee their own symposiums can also let students share their work in the exact kind of format that RURS might not have been able to facilitate.”

Lauren Kapcha, the assistant dean for communications of the School of Natural Sciences, said that NSURS will follow the poster presentation format of RURS. She noted that the new symposium will be able to meet the demand of natural sciences presentations that RURS may not have been able to.

“Moving this into the School of Natural Sciences, we’re able to accommodate all of our students who want to share their work,” Kapcha said. “Any student in natural sciences, no matter how early or advanced they are in their research, will be able to present in the symposium because we don’t have the same limitations on space.”

SSURS will feature traditional research posters and oral presentations as well as creative work. Abbey Godley, the assistant dean for student programs for the School of Social Sciences, said the school wants to involve students at all stages of research, including different types of class projects.

“A number of our faculty in social sciences have devised ways for final research products to not always be a research paper or a research poster,” Godley said.

Similarly, Humanities Day will have sessions exhibiting artwork, oral and poster presentations and medical humanities practicum work. Natasha Bowdoin, the associate dean of Humanities for undergraduate programs and special projects, said that the showcase was designed to highlight the importance of the varied work in the humanities for undergraduate research as a whole.

“Humanities Day is about educating and sharing with the larger Rice community what Humanities research is about, how it can look, and the critical contributions it can make across all fields and disciplines,” Bowdoin wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Director of OURI Elizabeth Eich said that one benefit of expanding the number of events during Inquiry Weeks is that more students can be awarded for their work. Additionally, the Shapiro Showcase, which highlights top undergraduate researchers as nominated by faculty across schools, will feature twice as many student presentations.

Jacob Buergler presented psychology research in the RURS poster session and Shapiro Showcase last year and will be participating in SSURS this year. Buergler said that dividing RURS will limit the research that students get to learn about because they will be presenting in showcases based on the department that their research falls under.

“You might be aiming for, for example, a B.S. in neuroscience, but if your research is more psychologically oriented, you’d present with social sciences even if you consider yourself more natural sciences,” Buergler, a Baker College junior, said. “But I think you’ll also be fine … This kind of forces you to see other individuals in your field.”

Li hopes that this year’s expanded Inquiry Weeks can engage more students from across campus in all of the events.

“Even though all these research showcases aren’t on the same day or in a singular event, it should hopefully have students cross mingle and attend all the different schools’ events across the different weeks, so I’m hopeful that it’ll increase engagement,” Li said.

Ultimately, Schuh said, the new Inquiry Weeks events provide greater visibility for the diverse research occurring at Rice.

“Research occurs across campus in every school, but it’s not always easily identified because when people think [of] research, they think [of] … a lab, in a lab coat, taking measurements,” Schuh said. “There’s so much creative work that’s [in] all the schools across campus, so I think that this is just showcasing that a little bit better than maybe RURS did in the past.”

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