UNCG Undergraduates Gain Transferable Skills at Conferences

Posted on January 12, 2024

A group of individuals stand outdoors wearing name badges.
UNCG students presented their research and scholarship at the SoCon Undergraduate Research Forum. From left to right: UNCG students Sydney Thompson, Ethan Divon, Ashley Jones, Emily Guin, Karla Mills, Corbin Mills, Selena Villa, and Dr. Lee Phillips.

Each year, UNC Greensboro’s Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creativity Office (URSCO) supports undergraduate students when they present the results of their research or creativity pursuits at a conference or symposium. For example, last semester UNCG students traveled to various locations for conferences and research lab visits, including Maryland, South Carolina, and Arizona.

For many, the prospect of presenting one’s research to students and faculty may feel daunting. But the benefits of braving these nerves can last beyond one’s undergraduate days. URSCO’s Director Dr. Lee Phillips says there are many skills undergraduate students can gain from presenting their work including mastering their public speaking.

“Students who have the opportunity to present the results of their inquiry are going to have tremendous gains, and it’s going to create a new network and open doors for them,” Phillips says.

Multifaceted benefits

It’s not just the members of the audience or listeners at the poster presentation who gain insight from a student’s presentation. The presenter, too, has an opportunity to deepen their understanding of their research or creative pursuit.

A woman stands in front of a research poster, while two other individuals listen to her speak.
Selena Villa, a UNCG senior majoring in nutrition, presents her research about Latina mothers’ feeding practices at the SoCon Undergraduate Research Forum.

“When you are reflective enough about the process, you can break it down,” Phillips says. “This helps you own that experience in a more meaningful, personal, and holistic way.”

While presenting, students also have an opportunity to hone their communication skills: something Phillips says is an incredibly beneficial lifelong work in progress for everyone, regardless of their future career.

The benefits of presenting one’s research go beyond cultivating a tangible skillset.

“When we take students to conferences, they all tend to come home friends,” Phillips says. “And it’s because they have this shared experience that promotes a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and a shared sense of accomplishment.”

An added bonus of conferences: students often get to spend time in a new city and learn about other ways of life. To help with travel expenses for conference participation, URSCO supports many students. Last year, URSCO provided 32 students with travel awards.

“Travel allows students to experience cultural and geographic differences – all of these benefits of travel can go a long way towards personal and professional development,” he said.

Overcoming public speaking anxiety

Whether a student is at a conference for the first time or a seasoned presenter, nerves are inevitable. Phillips emphasizes it’s important to remember that the presenter is the expert on the topic – regardless of what stage they are at in their career – and that people attending the conference are there to learn more about these different areas of research.

A man stands behind a desk as he gives a presentation about gaming.
Ethan Divon, a junior majoring in Classical Studies, gives a presentation about his research on Greco-Roman influences on gaming in the modern world at the SoCon Undergraduate Research Forum.

“If you’ve taken the time to do the research, you’re confident in the data or assessment of information, and you’ve thoughtfully weighed the implications of your work with your advisor, then people are likely to be really interested in what you have to say,” he says.

Stepping into one’s confidence can help ground the student, but like any new skill, building a sense of sturdiness within oneself can take practice. When the student encounters anxiety in the moments before presenting, Phillips says he recommends noticing the nerves, letting these emotions move past them, and focusing on their breathing.

Focusing on the big picture and overall plan of the presentation can be a great way to get in the zone for the presentation once those nerves hit.

“I remind myself of where I’m going to start, and how I’m going to move through the story and where I’m going to finish,” Phillips says. “Practice, practice, practice and then trust yourself.”

Where to begin?

For students on the fence about attending a conference, Phillips encourages them to give it a go. This semester, URSCO is hosting the 18th Annual Carolyn & Norwood Thomas Undergraduate Research and Creativity Expo at UNCG where students can present the results of their research or creative pursuits on April 10.

“Our aim is to provide students a space where they can develop the communication skills necessary to take the information to regional, national, or international conferences,” he says.

The portal will be open for submissions from January 24 to February 28.

“One of the things that surprises students the most is the confidence they gain from presenting,” Phillips says. “I think they’re surprised by their success, sense of accomplishment, and that they can answer questions from the audience.”

Story by Rachel Damiani
Photos courtesy of Dr. Lee Phillips

Two students review a textbook in the library.

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