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13 May, 2005

TO: NE GSA Management Board
FROM:  Noel Potter, Pete Sak, Jennifer Elick
RE: Student Poster Sessions at NE GSA

Ok folks, Chris Hepburn recently told you that the Management Board should be involved in policy decisions about our meetings.  Here's your chance to give us some opinions.

For the 2006 NE GSA Meeting we are considering alternatives to the recent format of traditional "Undergraduate Research (Posters)" sessions.  Please send us your comments on the alternatives we present below within the next week or so.

In recent years the "Undergraduate Research (Posters)" have been listed in the Program and presented as a group separate from oral and poster papers presented by professionals. For a history of undergraduate posters at NE GSA, see our note at the end of this message.  We want to continue to encourage strong student participation in our section meeting, but we see two problems with the current format, as did the organizers of the 2005 Saratoga meeting.

1) Disparate subject matter in 1-3 sessions--The diverse subject matter of undergraduate research ends up jumbled in 1-3 large poster sessions consisting of various subjects mixed together in a potpourri.  The end result is a) a lack of coherence of subject matter within a single poster session that is unlike almost every other session--poster or oral--offered at the meeting, and b) an implied "second class citizenship" of these budding professionals, when as a matter of practice many students prepare as good, if not always as sophisticated, papers as some of their full professional peers.

2) Why not oral too?--Creating a Theme Session(s) of "Undergraduate Research (POSTERS)" implies that this is "the place" for undergraduates to present their papers.  While we agree that some subject matter clearly lends itself to poster rather than oral mode, some undergraduate research projects could be effectively or more effectively presented in the oral mode.  We recognize that poster presentation encourage extended dialog with visitors compared to the brief question and answer time allotted in the typical oral session.  If there are multiple student authors on a paper, clearly poster mode makes it easier to give "equal time" than the oral mode.  On the other hand, students should be encouraged to practice their oral skills as well.  The Saratoga organizers invited a few students who had submitted to the poster session to present in oral sessions appropriate to their research topic.

Posters have become very popular in the past 10-15 years among geologists.  The 2005 Saratoga meeting was the first time that the number of contributed posters exceeded contributed talks.  A few years ago NE GSA changed from 5 to 4 concurrent oral sessions per half day, presumably largely because of the growth in popularity of the poster mode.  Kurt Hollocher has told us that he could have done all oral papers in two rather than 2.5 days. 

We see several possibilities to blunt the effect of 1) and 2) above.  Instead of the current "Undergraduate Research (Posters)" all in 1-3 large poster sessions,

1) Merge all undergraduate papers with others, with a note in the "Call for Abstracts" making it clear that submissions from undergraduate researchers are encouraged (this was actually done in 1996 and 1997).  The problem with this is that papers are not identified as having undergraduate first authors, as is the case now with oral mode papers based on undergraduate research.

A substantial question here is whether we should/could somehow identify all papers based on undergraduate research with student as first author/presenter with some symbol (UR, or the like?)?  And if the answer is yes, can we get this information when abstracts are submitted to GSA?

2) Solicit undergraduate posters as now, but merge posters on a given subject by students with those by professionals, and spread the student posters through thematic poster sessions (as was done at the 1994, 1995, and 1998 meetings--see History below).

3) To make sure that students know that the "oral option" is open to them, and to perhaps get a few more oral papers, make a statement in the "Call for Abstracts" to the effect that "undergraduate students are encouraged to consider presenting their research in an oral session appropriate to their research topic."


It appears that the first time that undergraduate research was singled out at NE GSA was at the 1992 Harrisburg meeting where Jeff Niemitz was Technical Program Chair.  The "Special Poster Session on Undergraduate Research" was "Sponsored by the Northeastern Section of GSA."  There were 29 posters that year.

By 1993 (Burlington) the Special Poster session was co-sponsored by NE GSA and the Geology Division of CUR, with Barb Tewksbury (Hamilton College) as convener.  Since then primary conveners have been Larry Malinconico (Lafayette College) and Dave Bailey (Hamilton College) with help from others a couple of years.  Numbers of undergraduate posters since 1994 have been in the 50's and 60's, with the exception of the 1998 Portland meeting with 39 and the 2004 Tysons Corners meeting with 87 (joint NE/SE Sections).  Second highest number of undergrad posters (69) was at Halifax.

A sampling of the last several years (2001, 03, 04) of meeting programs for other section shows that all but the Cordilleran Section now have an Undergraduate Research Poster session.  Most are sponsored by CUR.  From 6 to 58 posters were presented at these meetings.

In most years there was simply one or more "Undergraduate Research (Poster)" sessions with all subjects lumped together.  In several years (1994, 95, 98) posters were arranged by topic, with undergraduate ones designated as such with a separate heading (e.g., Booths 1-8 "Petrology" and Booths 9-14 "Undergraduate Research (Posters): Petrology," followed in like fashion for other topics with the undergrad posters spread among other posters over the whole  2½ days of the meeting.  In two years (1996, 97) a "Special Poster Session" was described as "Undergraduate Research," but none of the poster sessions nor individual papers was specifically identified as by undergraduates.