Research Day Gives Graduate Students Priceless Experience

Posted in GUMC Stories

SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 — Fifty students in Biomedical Graduate Education (new window) (BGE) programs at Georgetown University Medical Center (new window) showcased their research pursuits in this year’s Student Research Day (new window), an annual event that began in 1985.

This year’s event consisted of two oral presentation sessions, poster presentations and an “Alternate Careers in Industry” panel.

“Student Research Day is a great way for students to speak about their research with peers outside of their own discipline,” says Summer Rozzi, president of the Medical Center Graduate Student Organization, a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience and one of the organizers for this year’s event.  

Students often have the opportunity to hear others within their programs explain their research, but they don’t often hear from students in other disciplines. Student Research Day also allows the students to engage in discussions and solicit feedback.

“The feedback the students receive from their peers and faculty is very beneficial because we often speak about our research without any constructive criticism, which doesn’t allow for much growth,” says Rozzi.

The oral presentations and panel discussion were new additions this year.

“The introduction of oral presentations allows students to experience speaking to a general audience about their research in an abbreviated format,” says Rozzi.

Learning from Others

The Alternate Careers in Industry panel discussion featured Jason Rao, PhD, director of international affairs at the American Society for Microbiology; Rayna Carter, PhD, scientific education administrator at the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education; Laura Brockway-Lunardi, PhD, scientific program director at the Melanoma Research Alliance; and Randall Ribaudo, PhD, co-founder of Human Workflows and SciPhD.

“Students listened to the stories of our panelists and how they made the decision to leave academia,” says Caroline Goon, MS, MBA (new window), director of Recruitment and Career Services for Biomedical Graduate Education at Georgetown University and another event organizer. “When asked if there was something the students could do now, they were given the advice to look inward and begin to figure out who they are and what it is they are truly interested in doing.”

The panelists also encouraged students to immediately begin to network with each other and have information meetings with professionals in their fields of interest.

“The career panelists provided great advice for improving networking skills, exploring a range of career paths and finding your passion,” says Elizabeth Lee, a third-year graduate student in the Global Infectious Disease PhD program. “I’m not sure yet what my plans are after I finish my degree, but it was heartening to hear that successful professionals also felt the same way when they were in graduate school.”

After the panel, students attended a networking dinner event where they could meet each other and continue conversations with the panelists.

Gaining Oral Presentation Experience

Throughout the day, 15 students gave oral presentations and 35 had poster presentations. Faculty members judged each presentation and awards were given to the top three presenters in each category.

Lee took first place for her oral presentation on detecting signals of seasonal flu severity through age dynamics.

“The goal of my project is to develop a metric of seasonal influenza severity that can be used to classify population-level experiences of disease burden retrospectively and in real-time in the United States,” says Lee.

Lee is also interested in identifying regional severity patterns, which could inform public health decision-making and surveillance activities for future flu seasons.

“We describe an epidemiological phenomenon where children experience substantial epidemics every flu season, while adults experience substantial disease burden only during severe flu seasons,” explains Lee. “In addition, our results suggest that western states experience milder flu activity, while the southeastern and mid-Atlantic regions experience more severe activity than other parts of the U.S.”

Refining Past Research

Chelsea Stillman, a PhD candidate in the Lifespan Cognitive Neuroscience program in the psychology department, put together a poster presentation titled “Caudate Resting State Connectivity Predicts Implicit Sequence Learning Performance: A Replication and Extension.” Her poster took first place.

This research project addresses a number of limitations of a previous study which had focused on the strength of communication between the caudate and medial temporal lobe in the brain during a lab-based sequence learning task, says Stillman.

“In the earlier study, we reasoned that stronger communication between these two regions of the brain at rest might help promote a readiness to learn,” says Stillman. “In the present project, we again found that better learning was associated with stronger resting state functional connectivity between the caudate and medial temporal lobe.”

The results are consistent with the idea that stronger communication between the regions helps to promote a readiness to learn, perhaps by enabling the regions to interact more efficiently during the learning task, says Stillman.

Both Stillman and Lee found the day to be a valuable experience.

“Not only did we get to practice the very important skill of communicating our results to people with a wide variety of scientific backgrounds, but we also received written feedback on how successful we were at doing this and ways we can improve,” Stillman says.


The awardees for the oral and poster presentations are:

Oral Presentation:

1st – Elizabeth Lee, PhD candidate in Global Infectious Disease program
2nd – Charles Lynch, PhD student in Psychology
3rd – Amanda DiBattista, PhD candidate in IPN

Poster Presentation:

1st – Chelsea Stillman, PhD candidate in Psychology
2nd – Tara Gelb, PhD candidate in Pharmacology
3rd – Francisco Saenz, PhD candidate in Tumor Biology

By Sarah Reik
GUMC Communications