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UNG students find online alternative to research conference
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All of JJ Gilleland’s work was finally about to pay off. 

Gilleland, a University of North Georgia graduate assistant, was scheduled to present his research on queer international relations at UNG’s Annual Research Conference on Friday, March 13, as well as at other research conventions later this spring in Chicago, London and Tokyo. As each conference was canceled in response to the spread of COVID-19, Gilleland’s spirits fell. When the ARC was postponed as well, he worried that his research might never reach its intended audience. 

To accommodate Gilleland — and the many UNG students in the same situation — the school has rescheduled this year’s ARC to a virtual format on April 17. All oral presentations are set to be streamed online, and students who made posters for the event will have the opportunity to upload them for the research community’s viewing. 

“When I heard that it was still going to go forward, I was like ‘Yeah, this is good,’” Gilleland said. “Getting the ideas out there, getting the experience of at least presenting your research and being able to put it on a CD and resume that you did do this presentation, you were prepared for it and accepted and things like that.

 “It’s about getting the research that we’ve been spending so much time doing, getting it out there.”

The decision to move the conference online was a quick pivot for Anastasia Lin, Assistant Dean of Student Research and Scholarship at UNG. Lin received word that the university would be closing to all students at 4 p.m. the day before the ARC was originally scheduled to happen.

With similar conferences around the world shutting down, she began to see online chatter about many switching over to the virtual world and decided to move the ARC down that route. It was an easy decision for Lin, who believes the logistic difficulty of moving the conference online will be well worth the communal benefit of giving students a platform to present their research.  

“I think it creates that sense of community we’re all missing right now since we’re all physically distanced from each other,” she said. “This gives us a way to at least meet and celebrate and honor the hard work that our students have done over the past year or maybe multiple years in putting these projects together.” 

The event is expected to follow roughly the same schedule as originally was planned. Oral presenters had already been given time slots to speak, and those will remain the same barring any schedule conflicts. 

Those who made posters for the ARC will upload photos along with three- to five-minute long videos explaining their research. The event will even cater to students who had been accepted to speak at similar events around the world which have already been canceled. 

Lin said she has opened the doors for all UNG students who had planned on presenting research at a conference that has since been called off. That gives this year’s ARC, the 25th of its kind, the opportunity to be the biggest as well.

“That just depends on who takes us up on it,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting the word out.”

As the world shuts down, the effects on daily life grow more and more far reaching. But for UNG’s student research community, at least one day this spring will carry some semblance of normalcy.

“We know from the literature that undergraduate research has great benefits for students, such as increased critical thinking and increased persistence,” Lin said. “A lot of our undergraduate researchers end up going on to grad school, or those research experiences help set them up for excellent careers in their futures.”

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