When Rich Lopez first arrived at Dartmouth to begin his graduate studies this past fall, he quickly immersed himself in the rich academic life of his home department, Psychological and Brain Sciences. He attended various talks, conferences, and academic extracurricular activities associated with his research interests. While Lopez fully enjoyed these great opportunities, he sought a venue for graduate students to share their research with the broader public and add to the interdepartmental collaboration at Dartmouth. After he spoke with several fellow PBS graduate students and found out they shared the same concern, the initial idea for GradTalks was born.
“I was surprised to learn that there weren’t forums to talk about research outside of one’s own department,” says Lopez. Noting the tendency for academics to become immersed in the daily grind of lab research, Lopez saw firsthand how easy it was for graduate students to forget about the real-world implications of what they study–as well as how their research might benefit from cross-sectional perspectives and reflection.
“I consider myself very passionate–and yes, nerdy–about what I do, as do most of my fellow graduate students,” says Lopez. “But I often wonder–what is the ‘take home’ message? How can my research make a greater impact on society?”
For Lopez, these questions ultimately drove him to spearhead the creation of GradTalks, an interdisciplinary graduate conference occurring next Thursday, May 17th. Devised as a platform to showcase the exciting lines of research conducted by Dartmouth graduate students, GradTalks will feature students from a variety of academic departments. Each graduate student presenter will receive 10-15 minutes to deliver a dynamic presentation on an academic topic of their choosing, followed by a five minute Q & A period. There will also be a reception following the talks to further facilitate interaction between graduate students and audience members.
In many ways, GradTalks is a spin-off from Nerd Nite, a relatively new social event that has become increasingly popular with graduate students and that Lopez is also involved with. Nerd Nite features a similar format of graduate students informally presenting their research to an audience consisting mostly of people outside their home departments. Students at Nerd Nite are also able to practice their presentation skills and receive helpful feedback from graduate students from other academic disciplines.
“The ability to tailor a talk to a wider audience is a very important skill for a scientist,” explains Lopez, noting that this ability to communicate high-level scientific concepts to general audiences can have a huge impact in terms of increasing public awareness of certain scientific issues. “It’s a win-win, both from the graduate student’s perspective and for the people in attendance.”
The theme of this year’s conference is “‘The Self: from Cells to Stars,” and will feature topics ranging from the importance of bacteria that make up the human microbiome, to the neuroscience behind what gives rise to consciousness and a sense of self. According to Lopez, the theme of the event is purposely vague in order to inspire far-reaching thought and to include presentations from a variety of perspectives. While the promotional tagline of GradTalks, “…and you thought professors did all the research!” pokes fun at the undergraduate-dominated Dartmouth establishment, according to Lopez the event isn’t just about bringing attention to graduate students, but also about showing the wider Upper Valley community what sort of research is being done at Dartmouth.
“It’s Dartmouth College, but Dartmouth is a world-class university with cutting-edge research occurring everyday—largely by graduate students,” says Lopez. “We’re trying to bring more awareness to graduate research, but also want to demystify who graduate students are and what they do.”
1st Annual Dartmouth College GradTalks
Thursday, May 17th, 7pm
B03 Moore Hall
by Erin O’Flaherty