Forming a network of mentors and peers who can open doors to opportunities, offer support and encouragement, and create a sense of community is an important part of any emerging scientist’s journey. One of the best ways for young scholars to start making connections beyond their own institution is at academic conferences.
This year conferences, like so many things, have taken place in virtual spaces because of the pandemic. While the virtual format changes the dynamic of a conference, it can also create new opportunities and allow more students to attend. This fall, 10 UMBC STEM BUILD Trainees attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) virtually from November 9 – 13. The STEM BUILD program supported the students before, during, and after the experience.
Ready to connect
“STEM BUILD supported me tremendously as I prepared for this conference,” shares Sana Behdin '22, biological sciences, a member of STEM BUILD Cohort 4. “Not only did they provide me financial support for the conference, but prior to the conference I was able to attend sessions with other BUILD students, as well as Meyerhoff and URISE Scholars, to learn about how to navigate the online conference using the ABRCMS app, while making the most of the experience.”
That preparation paid off for the students as they worked to make connections with new people and chose the most relevant sessions based on their interests and goals. “Being part of this conference helped me develop my knowledge of what grad school entails, and from the information sessions I was able to get more of an insight into the programs I plan to pursue after graduation,” Miglanche Ghomsi '21, biological sciences, a member of Cohort 3, says.
While it posed its challenges, the online format afforded some new opportunities, like communicating in real-time with other participants during the sessions. “What I enjoyed most about the live sessions was the ability to chat with other participants and hear their initial reactions and comments during the presentations and workshops, which is not as easy to do in an in-person conference setting,” Behdin said. “I also found it easy to make connections with other researchers and continue conversations with them through the chatting feature on the ABRCMS app.” She also noted the benefits of having the virtual posters available throughout the conference so attendees could view them on their own time.
Setting students up for success
Beginning in their first year, STEM BUILD Trainees are expected to participate in several conferences hosted by UMBC, including the Summer Undergraduate Research Fest, Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences, and Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day. But all of the STEM BUILD Trainees attending ABRCMS this year were there for the first time.
“We were able to provide support enabling 10 students to attend the ABRCMS 2020 national conference,” STEM BUILD Program Specialist Meika Samuel said. “All first-time attendees, these students participated in concurrent sessions, met representatives from graduate and professional schools and visited research posters. We are grateful that our students had the opportunity to see how what they are learning in class and the skills they are acquiring as part of the STEM BUILD program have direct connections to the biomedical and behavioral sciences.”
Behdin took full advantage of the opportunity. “During the week, I attended talks and workshops ranging from writing personal statements to addressing microaggressions to overcoming impostor syndrome. Throughout all the sessions, I continued to become more confident in myself and my future goals as I spoke to and heard from many like-minded individuals,” Behdin said. “I was also able to gain some insight into my primary area of interest (pharmacology) while hearing about specific experiences involving graduate school and pursuing research in the field. Overall, I am tremendously grateful for this experience and it is all thanks to support from STEM BUILD.”