January 16th, 2013 (Jupiter, FL)—When students decide to attend Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, many state that one of the college’s main appeals is the wide range of research opportunities available to undergraduates. However, few students imagine that they themselves will be able to attend conferences and present their research alongside some of the nation’s most brilliant scholars. In December, 2012, six Wilkes Honors College Students had the opportunity to do just that by attending the American Society for Cell Biology’s National Conference in San Francisco, California. Accompanied by Honors College Professor Dr. Nicholas Quintyne, one of the college’s leading mentors of undergraduate research, these six students enjoyed the trip of a lifetime, discussing their own work and acquainting themselves with the latest discoveries in the field of cell biology.
At the conference, the six Honors College students had an opportunity to present some of their own work in the poster session. Student research posters appeared alongside the work of other scientists from around the world, and participants were able to discuss, explain, and compare their various projects with other representatives of their field. For the FAU students, the conference gave them the chance to receive feedback on their work from experienced researchers in their discipline, an experience that few undergraduate students enjoy. In addition, the undergraduates were excited to represent the Honors College in such an elite forum.
Christina Turn, who has worked with her advisor Dr. Quintyne on a study of the protein dynactin, comments, “At first, it was overwhelming to imagine presenting my thesis work to all of these scientists who have studied dynactin for years.” Regardless of these initial fears, however, Christina felt that the experience was unbelievable. “I felt excited to directly participate in an exchange of scientific ideas and in the evolution of scientific knowledge,” she says.
When they were not presenting their own research discoveries, the students attended other presentations on topics as varied as cancer, neurodegeneration, drug discoveries, cell functions, and much more. Panel discussions allowed attendees to interact directly with the premier researchers in the field of cell biology. The conference also offered networking events and career centers designed to help attendees discover new positions opening in the field and meet other scientists working in the same area.
For the six Honors College students in attendance, the vast number of scientists they met who have dedicated their professional lives to cell biology was overwhelming. Rachel Turn, an Honors College sophomore (and Christina’s sister), was blown away by the sheer size of the conference. “You may really love a field,” she said, “but sometimes you feel as though are very few people you can talk to about it. The environment at the conference was awesome because there were so many people there with the same passion for science and experimentation.” Rachel’s sister, Christina, has been busy of late applying to and interviewing at medical schools, since she hopes to put her research experience to good use in the health professions. For her, the conference was a great opportunity to explore new facets of her field. “There was so much diversity in the presentations and in the research,” she comments. “It makes you think about all of the amazing advances that have already been made in this field, and also helps us to realize that we still have so much more to discover.”
Even though the focus of the conference was on research, the trip proved to be not all about science.
Students still had time to explore the San Francisco by trekking to the Golden Gate Bridge and visiting the many shops and restaurants that the city has to offer. However, the attendees maintain that the major highlights of their trip took place at the conference itself, where they were able to share their love for the field of cell biology with scientists from all over the globe. For the Turn sisters and the other four Honors College students in attendance, the National Cell Biology Conference provided another tool they can add to their arsenal of scientific experiences provided by the Honors College and carried with them into their future careers.