Big stage: Presentation experience a real confidence builder

Four Heidelberg biochemistry majors – Alyssa Derr, Hannah Huthmaker, Kirsten Kracht and Morgan Sweat – recently returned from Chicago, where they presented their research at the fall national meeting of the American Chemical Society. While they might have gone into the experience a bit trepidatious and nervous, they came out of it with a huge dose of confidence in their presentation skills.

“I am really proud of my group because, throughout the whole time, we confidently showed off our work and presented ourselves really well,” Kirsten said.

The students, all seniors, spent the summer researching their topics and prepping their posters for the meeting. They requested to work outside of formal classes with their professors, Dr. Aaron Roerdink and Dr. Nate Beres, so they could have the experience of presenting at a national meeting. Hannah worked independently on her research, “Development of a Cross-Disciplinary Case Study for Use in a Biochemistry and/or Instrumental Analysis Classroom.” Alyssa, Kirsten and Morgan collaborated on their project, “Investigating Meldonium and Trimetazidine as Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) by Olympic Athletes.”

Ready to explain their work, the students set up their posters in a large room with about 200 others. For two hours, they interacted with conference participants and answered questions.

“I talked to several other attendees about my overall concept and even was given some advice for further elaboration on the drugs,” Hannah said. Alyssa added, “We had lots of interactions with others attending the conference and they were all super supportive and wanted to learn more about what we were presenting.”

Although they all worked extremely hard on their topics, none of the women had presented on a national stage previously, so there were some nerves at first. But they quickly discovered they could more than hold their own among the likes of professors, Ph.D.-level grad students and industry professionals representing various chemistry fields. That was a real confidence builder.

“We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, but after the first couple of attendees came and went, we were much more confident and had a little grove going,” Morgan said. “We even answered some interesting questions they threw our way.”

“I felt like a kid in a candy store,” Kirsten said. “I was so excited to present and to get to listen to the newest discoveries in the field of chemistry … from G-protein transport to graduate school programs.”

There was a flip side to the meeting too. They were able to attend a variety of speaker sessions, other presentations and the expo that “exposed us to many different branches of chemistry that we can potentially pursue for our careers,” Alyssa said. The experience also allowed the students to apply what they’ve been taught in their classes here at Heidelberg.

The notion that chemistry is always evolving also hit home. “Some of the sessions we attended discussed course material we have learned at Heidelberg, but the research was presenting new aspects that are being discovered,” Hannah shared.

When they weren’t presenting or attending sessions, the group explored some of the sights of the Windy City and tasted some of the famous cuisine such as deep-dish pizza, Asian noodles and donuts. They even made a quick stop to experience Chicago’s famous Bean sculpture.

The overall experience was so positive that the women hope other students take advantage of similar opportunities. Their trip and conference attendance were sponsored by the Joseph and Brenda Stearns Endowed Chemistry Conference Program Award.

“Once we finished our poster session, I felt like I was on the top of the world,” Morgan said. “Next time I hope to go in as confident as I came out because I had a place being there and I wish I would have known that all along. 

“I would definitely recommend my peers to go and present at an ACS conference.”

Alyssa added, “I can’t wait to do more research this school year and hopefully present again soon!”

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