10:03 AM

UST’s BEARS Chose to Innovate Instead of Hibernate

UST’s Biology Department innovated to make its 6th Biology Education and Research Symposium (BEARS) happen despite the COVID pandemic. The annual project is run by students of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Chapter and serves a high-value purpose—to build community for the University’s freshman biology majors as they present to one another. However, this year’s health and safety precautions threw a wrench into the traditionally large in-person plans, so organizers pivoted with great success.

This year, instead of getting students to deliver a classical poster presentation within a large room where all of the students could gather and mingle, event designers proposed something different.

Associate Biology Professor Shivas Amin said, “We asked students, most of whom are freshmen working on assigned research or projects, to develop entertaining, pre-recorded 5-minute video presentations to be broadcast during Zoom sessions. Each presenter was in a virtual room to answer questions from the Zoom audience.”

Whereas the in-person symposiums of the past typically handled 30 presenters and 120 attendees, this year’s virtual format still drew 18 presentations and 70 attendees.

“We grouped the presentation topics into three Zoom rooms, allowing students to choose which presentations they wanted to view and evaluate,” Amin said.

Though the virtual format saw a somewhat reduced participation, the final numbers were impressive.

“I’m proud that we’re innovating and maintaining activities that are as engaging as possible for the students, because what worries me is that so many college students find themselves in a climate where they’re hearing over and over, ‘Just wait.’ Our professors and students said, ‘We’re not going to wait. We’re going to do something with a degree of normalcy and make something positive happen in this unusual time.’”

According to Amin, students put admirable effort into their videos and had guidance and inspiration from UST professors to drive them forward.

Amin said, “We got people to participate in learning and discussing science even though we can’t be in the same room.”

In the coming months, the hope is that the participating undergraduates, now aware of the research happening in various UST research groups, will join an investigative group, join a club and begin to interact with one another for socially distanced study.

To view some or all of the 2020 BEARS presentations on YouTube, click here.