‘Research Connections’ panel emphasizes interconnectivity in research

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The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education has labeled UConn a Research 1 (R1) University, which means it engages in the highest levels of research activity. As a result, students have many opportunities to partake in undergraduate research during their time on campus. 

The First Year Programs and the Office of Undergraduate Research have teamed up and designated October as the “Month of Discovery.” During this time, students are encouraged to explore the many research opportunities available on campus through attending virtual events and webinars like the Experience Innovation Expo, Research Connections and Fall Frontiers.  

The Research Connections program serves as a catalyst to expose primarily first and second year students to the wide array of research taking place on campus. During this time, students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful interactions and conversations with faculty, staff, graduate students and peers to learn about their research. This is a great chance to network with researchers and have the ability to find a mentor that aligns with your specific goals and interests.  

The theme for this year’s Research Connections week is “Expanding Horizons” and there are six interdisciplinary student-moderated panels taking place that are focused on important topics that span across many departments at UConn.  

The panels are meant to provide more information on the research the panelists are doing and will also provide advice to students who are looking to become involved in research. Students also have the ability to join a breakout room with one of the panelists to ask other questions they may have and engage in a more personal conversation. 

The theme for this year’s Research Connections week is “Expanding Horizons” and there are six interdisciplinary student-moderated panels taking place that are focused on important topics that span across many departments at UConn.  

The second panel of the week, “Life on Earth: Environmentalism & Human Rights,” featured a discussion about why the environment and human rights are two inherently connected issues and how the current climate crisis is affecting society.  

The student moderator for this panel, Rebecca Feldman, a seventh-semester civil engineering major, guided the discussion by asking questions that ranged from tips on how students can become involved in research to the most pressing climate issues of our time. 

Many first and second year students are hesitant to become involved in research because they cast doubts on their level of knowledge on a certain topic or don’t think they have enough experience to be considered for a lab position.  

“It is never too early to get involved in undergraduate research,” Kristina Wagstrom, an associate professor of chemical engineering, said. 

Students who become involved in research during the first and second years of their undergraduate careers will have more time to work in the lab and develop their ideas. Conducting research can also help students find out what genuinely interests them before embarking on a specific career path or applying to graduate school. 

A point stressed by all of the panelists was the importance of collaboration with researchers in other departments and disciplines.  

“To really do the kind of work I want to do and to make it meaningful, it is necessary to collaborate,” Wagstrom said.  

Collaborating with others allows for different points of view to be introduced into the conversation and can open new areas of research on a topic. Oftentimes, interacting with people that have different skill sets from you will be a big factor in producing real change and tangible results in the research you are conducting. 

“Journalism plays a really critical role in communicating with the public what scientists do,” Michael Willig, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said.  

“The consequences of not doing something are so huge that it is almost unfathomable,”

Willig emphasized the importance of incorporating politicians, economists, journalists and other social scientists and humanists into the scientific research process to help disseminate information to the public in a creative way that reaches their hearts and minds. By entrusting others to offer their own insights to your research process, the end result will have a better chance of encapsulating the full story. 

“The consequences of not doing something are so huge that it is almost unfathomable,” Willig said.  

Willig suggests that having open, honest and civil conversations about topics and issues that you are passionate about and think are important is one of the best ways to work toward enacting real change. Engaging in these hard conversations will allow yourself and others to gain a wider perspective and possibly have a change in attitude toward certain topics.   

The primary purpose of research is to inform action and it is an important, continual process that allows new levels of knowledge to be formed. As an R1 university, UConn has numerous opportunities available for undergraduate students to take part in research with professors. 

If you are interested in climate change, human rights or any other issue, and want to get involved in enacting meaningful change to society, consider visiting the Undergraduate Research website to explore what opportunities are available to you.  

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