What do a Psychology, Optics, Education, and Biomedical student all have in common? All are outstanding graduate researchers at UCF and are eager to share their experience and perspective about presenting at the Graduate Research Forum. The Forum is a unique opportunity at UCF for graduate students to present their research or creative projects and compete for cash prizes and recognition in their field- however, it is so much more.

Lindsay Dhanani, an Industrial and Organizational Psychology Doctoral student researching workplace discrimination, noted that in an environment when you barely talk to other students in your own department having an event like the Forum provides an opportunity to see other students’ work. “I can draw on and learn from [others] that I don’t normally get the opportunity to talk to.” This sentiment was echoed by Jarrad Plante who is pursuing an EdD in Educational Leadership focusing on international service learning, and Debarati Mukherjee, a Biomedical PhD student researching the mechanisms of breast cancer. It is this interest in the array of scholarship at UCF and the breadth of topics represented by these three presenters that makes the Forum such a keystone event at UCF, attracting more than 250 graduate student presenters each year.

Amy Van Newkirk, an Optics PhD graduate student working on high temperature sensors, explains, “[The diverse audience at Forum] challenged me to explain my research to others that were not familiar with my area. It was exciting to talk to the judges who weren’t overly critical, but were interested in my work and students who were curious what my field was about.” Plante and his research partner Lauren Murray also noted the challenge of the judging saying that “We had one judge that really challenged our ability to present our elevator speech and key points in succinct fashion, but still give a thorough synopsis of what our research was about. [However,] it was that experience that prepared us to present well at other conferences.” While the judges at the Graduate Research Forum aim to give constructive feedback that will hone students’ presentation skills, the experience is “comfortable since you are in your own environment,” according to Mukherjee.

Not only can the Research Forum provide presentation experience for graduate students’ curricula vitae, but it can support future success in other academic activities. Many students use the Graduate Research Forum as a stepping stone to prepare for future conferences or even publication. All presenters interviewed have since presented at other conferences and all have submitted peer-reviewed publications based on their presentations. Mukherjee said that Forum was the first time she was “forced to put all of my data in one place and try to make sense of where I was in the process.” It was then in the midst of creating her poster that she realized she had a strong outline for her first publication on the subject.

When asked why they won, none of the interviewees were not certain, but the common belief was that they had a hot-button topic or that they were able to translate their research into practical applications to which the judges and other attendees could relate. Both Dhanani and Mukherjee also felt it was their passion for the topic that really helped engage the judges in their work.

Ultimately Dhanani summarizes presenting at Forum saying, “It’s a great experience. Every graduate student should have experience presenting their research, and conferences can be stressful and costly…at the Graduate Research Forum you can get good feedback in a low stakes atmosphere.” Mukherjee adds to this that “graduate school should not only be about your work, your lab, your project…we are all in graduate school because we want to expand our knowledge base.” Presenting at and attending the Graduate Research Forum provides an opportunity to do just that.

This year’s Graduate Research Forum will be held on, Tuesday, March 31, 2015 in the Pegasus Ballroom of the Student Union. Students’ poster presentations will be available from 12:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and an awards ceremony will begin at 3:30 p.m. All members of the UCF community are strongly encouraged to attend to support the excellent scholarship of our graduate students and the research culture of our university.

The Graduate Research Forum is a part of UCF’s Research Week. This year’s Research Week is March 30-April 2 and will feature a variety of workshops, panel discussions, and two celebrations of student research.