I won a research award!

Around two decades of quarantine-time ago, back in April, I blogged about my very first research ‘presentation’ taking place at a digital symposium. In the month after that symposium, I released the visualization of my project (to surprising public acclaim), finished my finals, and graduated. Then, a few days after the date of my ‘graduation,’ I received an email telling me I had won Outstanding in the Science & Mathematics Poster session – essentially top prize in my category of 400-or-so poster presentations! (link to the award winners)

I think this is where I’m supposed to say that I’m ‘shocked,’ or that I ‘can’t believe I won,’ or something else suitably humble. I am definitely thrilled and a little surprised that I received an award for my first-ever presentation of research. But I cannot entirely say that I didn’t present without an eye towards the awards. I am a rather results-driven person, and the result of a possible award is what drove me to spend ~30 hours drafting, recording, and editing a video; and a fair amount of additional time responding to judge comments and convincing my friends colleagues they should also be checking out and commenting on my research. Luckily, doing all of that was very fun for me.

This might be slightly old news, (it happened in May and I’m writing about it in July) but it’s good news, and I think we all need a little bit of good news to put out into the world. Here’s hoping I can bring this award-winning-research energy into my first semester of grad school!

Presenting at a Digital Research Symposium

This past Thursday I had planned to present a research poster for the first time – at the University of Illinois’ Undergraduate Research Symposium. Then the pandemic happened, and, well, I suppose it’s lucky that I had yet to design my poster.

In lieu of my inaugural in-person research presentation, the poster session was organized into a forum, with presenters recording short videos of themselves talking about their work. While I’m disappointed not to be able to speak directly to the symposium attendees, it was fun to dust off my video editing skills and put them to good use.

The research I am ‘presenting’ (currently, as the symposium started on Monday the 27th and stretches through this Friday) is my senior thesis: Visualizing Curriculum Commonalities and Prerequisite Chains Through Metro Maps. It is a project that began as an idea to artistically illustrate the course paths of majors in Illinois’ College of Engineering, and which turned into a saga of scraping poorly formatted websites for data, searching out graph drawing papers, reading almost the entirety of a dissertation from 2008, and implementing my own metro map drawing algorithm.

Unexpectedly, I have still found presenting digitally and asynchronously to be rewarding. I have been able to have Illinois students and faculty from across departments view my work, have had intelligent discussion through answering thoughtful questions about my design choices for the map and how I thought the visualization might impact students as they create their class plans. I’ve also been able to receive an evaluation of the comprehensibility of the (admittedly rather technical) project to academics in non-technical fields, and my friends were able to support me by logging on and leaving encouraging forum comments.

My advisor and I plan to release an interactive visualization of the map, my thesis’ true final product, in the next few weeks. In that time, I’m hoping to put the feedback I’ve received to work making the web-based version of the project the best it can be.