On a warm mid-summer day, the lights of the Academic Rotunda dimmed, and a limited live audience took a collective masked and socially distanced breath as Graduate Student Research Day (GSRD) returned as an in-person event for the first time in two years. In cyberspace, an additional 130-plus attended the annual celebration of the research accomplishments of biomedical science students in the Graduate School programs at UConn Health.
The pandemic forced the paring down of last year’s event to online-only oral presentations by a student representative of each the seven biomedical science areas of concentration and the Lepow Award winner from the previous year. For the 38th annual event on Aug. 5, the keynote speaker was reinstated, and all presentations were able to be given to a live audience in a hybrid format. While the poster session and student luncheon components continue to be paused due to ongoing COVID restrictions, across the board, participants felt that having even a portion of the event live was well worth it.
“I actually had fun getting to present in front of real people for the first time in a year and a half,” said Corie Owen, incoming Graduate Student Organization (GSO) president and winner of this year’s oral presentation award. “Zoom talks get the job done, but it can be tough presenting at your computer screen without getting to see people’s facial cues to determine if they are following or not. Being able to present in front of people again reminded me why I love presenting, even with all of the nerves!”
Neuroscience student Ramalakshmi Ramasamy agreed, saying, “Presenting in person before a crowd after such a long break felt really stressful, but I think this is the first step in getting back to ‘normal,’ and it felt great after the presentation.”
Students also have been keenly aware of the lack of opportunities for social interaction among their peers.
“I got to meet my friends from other departments after such a long time and got to hear about their exciting research advances,” Ramalakshmi said. “Events like this let us get in touch with researchers across departments and provides opportunity for collaborations.”
Immunology student Blake Torrance, the outgoing GSO president, , echoed her sentiments.
“All-virtual conferences/symposia [while workable] are a poor substitute for the interactive and engaging environment that an in-person event offers,” Torrance said. “I think 2021’s GSRD was such a great experience for our students to finally re-connect after such a long time.”
Adam Tanguay, a skeletal biology and regeneration student, concurred, noting that presenting the event in a safe manner remained a top priority.
“In a year where nothing has been normal, I think holding a safe, distanced, in-person event has a lot of value, and the hybrid format provided that,” Tanguay said.
This year’s keynote speaker, Professor Rebecca Page, joined the cell biology program at UConn Health December 2020. Her research, concerning how we sense and react to our environment, which is communicated in the cell by vast networks of highly dynamic, interacting proteins, seemed a great fit for a talk meant to have broad appeal to a variety of research backgrounds in the Biomedical Science program. She was thrilled to be asked to participate in GSRD, which she feels is “an absolutely critical event” as part of a student’s education.
“It also allows students to practice presenting their research, which is a key element of their graduate training,” Page said. “We, as advisors, teach, but students also learn an incredible amount from one another and this is an exceptional forum for this to happen.”
And while this year’s research day was not quite up to previous year’s full-blown schedule, the format forced by the pandemic could offer a silver lining for future iterations of the event.
“I am hoping we can actually keep that going in the future, so everyone has multiple options for attending,” Owen said about the live-streamed oral presentations. “Sometimes taking a whole day off [to attend] isn’t possible, but with the hybrid model it’s nice that students and faculty can still tune in even if they have a busy lab day.”
After the presentations, the program announced their annual awards recipients, including:
Edward G. Henderson Memorial Prize for Outstanding Ph.D. Thesis in Biomedical Science: Dr. Ashley Russo, immunology area of concentration, PI: Dr. Vijay Rathinam
Lepow Award for Outstanding Biomedical Science PhD Student Entering the 4th Year of Study: Andrew Harrison, immunology area of concentration, PI: Dr. Penghua Wang
Biomedical Science Service Award in Leadership: Gabrielle Valles, molecular biology & biochemistry area of concentration, PI: Dr. Irina Bezsonova
Biomedical Science Service Award in Mentorship: Dea Gorka, genetics and developmental biology area of concentration, PI: Dr. Stormy Chamberlain
GSRD Oral Presentation Award: Corie Owen, cell biology area of concentration, PI: Dr. Laurinda Jaffe
Osborn Award for Excellence in Biomedical Science Graduate Training: Dr. Evan Jellison, immunology
View the archived presentations from the 38th annual Graduate Student Research Day:
Area of Concentration Oral Presentations
- Nagham Khouri Farah, genetics and developmental biology
- Kirby Madden-Hennessey, molecular biology and biochemistry
- Joseph Masison, systems biology
- James Nevin, immunology
- Corie Owen, cell biology
- Ramalakshmi Ramasamy, neuroscience
- Adam Tanguay, skeletal biology and regeneration
2020-21 Lepow Award Winner Presentation
Marwa Elamin, PI: Eric Levine
“Identifying Cellular Phenotypes of Dup15q Syndrome Using CRISPR-edited Human iPSC-derived neurons”
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Rebecca Page, Professor of Cell Biology, UConn Health
“Cracking the phosphatase code”