Saturday, October 24, 2020

More connected than ever before

January 30, 2013
	<p>Pearson</p>

Pearson

Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

All the girls at Harvard University are tall. Or, at least, it seems that way.

Last weekend, I attended the National Collegiate Research Conference, or NCRC, an event organized by the Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association, or HCURA. It brought together more than 200 students representing universities across the country.

Height aside, it was an impressive group, with undergraduates from all imaginable backgrounds and disciplines converging on the university’s campus in Cambridge, Mass.

Now in its second year, the HCURA hopes to make the conference an annual event. The 2013 NCRC theme was “Collaboration: Weaving New Connections through Research.” Participants were selected based on the submission of a research abstract, and there were three poster sessions on the final day where students presented their work in a wide variety of areas.

However, the “connections” aspect of the theme turned out to be the most important. After the arrival and check-in on Thursday, an evening packed with ice-breaker activities and social events made clear the intention of the conference organizers to bring each student into contact with as many other undergraduates as possible. We were getting to know each other, but perhaps more importantly, we were networking.

In fact, as if to clear the way for this process, the HCURA made sure everyone at the conference, from its organizers to the plenary speakers — with the noted exception of keynote speakers Jeffrey Sachs, Juan Enriquez and Steven Pinker, among others — were undergraduate students.

And they were a striking bunch. Not only was I struck by the apparent height advantage of many of the participants in attendance, but I also felt the impact of the diversity that modern universities strive for: diversity of race, gender, nationality, background, academic discipline, etc.

Networking among this group was bound to be enlightening. I found the students at this conference displayed remarkable self possession, assurance and personality — which, perhaps, is why many of them seemed so tall.

It’s hard to say whether height confers confidence, or confidence confers poise and posture. Probably both.

The opportunity to take a weekend and actively network — with interruptions arriving only in the form of engaging talks from distinguished Harvard faculty, associates and several students from other universities — seemed to bring out the passion and extroversion in everyone. Like the first day of high school, people were sitting down at lunch tables and talking to strangers.

One student was carrying around the “Face Book” the organizers had provided with a directory of participants and asking people to sign their autograph next to their picture. Probably a pretty good investment considering the odds that several of the talented students gathered at the conference likely are destined for illustrious careers in science, business and the public eye.

Resources such as that “Face Book,” or, more broadly, the Facebook website itself we all know and love — or hate — symbolize the unprecedented amount of opportunities college students today have to maintain very large networks of friends and connections.

We’re more connected than any other generation ever has been before us. And although that occasionally can wreak havoc socially, in the field of research, it has inarguable value.

Academic and scientific research has become increasingly integrated and interdisciplinary. That trend certainly is visible at MSU, which not only has promoted connections and collaboration among and between its various departments, but also has guided the emergence of new labs and initiatives with a distinct interdisciplinary focus.

And in academia at large, researchers are taking advantage of online databases, easily accessible journals and virtual networks of associates to share ideas and develop projects.

With the current generation of Internet-bred students about to take the floor, it’s clear that networking will become even more integrally ingrained in the academic environment.

That’s why events such as the NCRC at Harvard are so valuable. Much of my time might have been spent in casual conversation — with two nights out in Boston added for good measure. No breakthroughs in research occurred during the course of the weekend — at least, not that I know of.

It’s the future breakthroughs that matter. Like the guy collecting autographs as an investment in future fame, I felt the importance of making friends with some of the nation’s upcoming bright minds and big personalities.

When these people rise up to the national and global stage, we’ll have each other to lean on, debate with and learn from. And academia will be better off for it.

Craig Pearson is a guest columnist at The State News and a biochemistry junior. Reach him at pears153@msu.edu.

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