The kids these days... they are really smart. By kids I mean undergraduates, and by smart, I mean freaking geniuses. Today I served as a volunteer judge on a panel of fellow alumni at Small Green College. Our job was to review student research posters, and to select and rank the top three. When I signed up, I didn't know exactly what to expect, I just knew it sounded fun. It turned out to be very serious business indeed.
There were only four of us judges, and approximately 70 posters to be reviewed in under three hours. The event coordinator arranged it so each poster would be rated by two judges, assigning us each a unique list. Many students were present to discuss their research, but unfortunately, presentation was not part of the ranking criteria. This makes sense, because many students had class to attend, but it was hard to be impartial and not favor those students who were actually there. Especially in the disciplines outside my comfort zone, where an explanation could make a huge difference.
It was so hard! I only had about 5 minutes with each student poster, which isn't very long to talk to a student, read the poster text and figures, and complete an evaluation form. The posters were fantastic, for the most part, given that they were prepared by undergraduates. Sure, there were errors of inexperience: too much or too small text, too much jargon, unlabelled figures, undefined acronyms, spelling mistakes. But this was original research, and these kids were for real. They know their stuff.
It is a self-selected group; the research and the posters were voluntary, and not a class requirement. I certainly never presented research at a poster session as an undergraduate. Now I wish I had. I walked away from the event very impressed. They just need to have a few more judges next year.