Earlier this month, Dublin welcomed 150 undergraduate students from all over the world for The Undergraduate Awards 2017.
The Undergraduate Awards, now in their ninth year, aim to celebrate undergraduate research from students across all disciplines and multiple countries. Undergraduates submit their dissertations/final-year projects to a panel of judges, and a winning student is selected from each category alongside a number of highly commended positions.
At the three-day event in Dublin, which is held annually, the students receive their medals and enjoy a chance to network with the other medal winners across the disciplines. On the first day, students shared their research with the rest of the cohort, condensing their thesis into a three-minute presentation.
Alexandra Brito, a language and linguistics student from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville said that having to prepare a three-minute presentation encouraged you to “break down your research” and condense it into a format that others could understand.
One of the main benefits of attending the event was being able to network with students across disciplines and from many different countries. This year, students from universities across the Republic of Ireland, the UK, the US, Singapore and Australia attended. Farhana Choudhary, who studied English language for education at the University of Manchester, said that “the awards had brought so many people together and really helped to network with other students”.
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The second day was a colloquium, packed full of speakers discussing how their time in higher education had shaped the rest of their lives. Among this year’s speakers were Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield; Ailbhe Smyth, an academic and feminist activist; Will St Leger, an artist and a broadcaster; and Syed Shoaib Hasan Rizvi, who launched I Am an Entrepreneur, a programme that helps women in Pakistan to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.
Each speaker also held breakout sessions, encouraging informal question-and-answer sessions between them and the students who wished to know more about their journey.
Martha Andrews, an art and design graduate from the University of Dundee, said that she was currently looking for employment and found that being at the awards helped her to hone her professional skills, such as networking, engaging in new subject matters and making the most of a conference.
That evening, the global winners from each category received a medal to commemorate their achievements, and two more inspirational speakers took to the stage in Dublin’s City Hall. This year’s addresses came from Chris Lubbe, a former bodyguard to Nelson Mandela, speaker and coach, and Zerbanoo Gifford, a writer and human rights activist. Both spoke passionately about how education was the key to breaking down societal barriers and bringing about great change in the world.
Meeting with and talking to the students over the three days gave an overwhelming sense that the awards were a great recognition of undergraduate research, when traditionally more attention was paid to the work of master’s and PhD students. Many of the students admitted to having submitted their research on a whim, after receiving high grades or encouragement from lecturers, but they all felt that it had been one of the best decisions they had ever made.
Santiago Campuzano, who studied food science at the University of British Columbia, agreed with this sentiment, saying that although students could sometimes be prone to questioning the value of their work, they should be confident in their abilities.