Creative and research opportunities abound at undergraduate expo

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Emily Girard

On Monday, Jan. 31, UK’s Office of Undergraduate Research hosted the Undergraduate Research + Creative Experience Expo, connecting students with summer research opportunities.

The purpose of the expo, according to the Office of Undergraduate Research’s website, was to “introduce undergraduate scholars to the diversity of research and creative work conducted at UK, allow students to network with research faculty and staff, and learn about mentored summer research and creative opportunities.” 

UK is classified as a Research I school, indicating “very high research activity,” according to Carnegie Classifications. Thirty organizations, both on and off campus, sent representatives to the event, setting up tables across the second floor of the Gatton Student Center.

“I just greeted people as they came in and gave out info to undergrads who were interested in getting involved with undergraduate research,” said junior Maya Abul-Khoudoud, a biology and psychology major who helped staff the event. “I have been a part of research here at UK since my freshman fall semester.”

Abul-Khoudoud said that although research can be intimidating, she hopes the fair increased students’ confidence about future research possibilities.

“I hope that by getting to speak directly with some of the people creating these opportunities, they feel excitement and assurance,” she said.

Gabija Ziemyte, a junior physics and math major, got involved with undergraduate research the fall of her sophomore year, collaborating with UK physics professor Dr. Christopher Crawford. She said her research experience has been “incredibly” beneficial.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities open up to me because of my research involvement, including a summer research internship. I’ve also learned a whole lot about physics research and working with code and data, which has been super cool,” she said. “Also, I know Dr. Crawford pretty well now, which is great for academic advice and rec[comendation] letters.”

Ziemyte is also an Undergraduate Research Ambassador at UK. At the expo, she focused on gathering information to give to students who come to her for research advice.

While there, she said she walked around and heard about the many different research opportunities available across a variety of disciplines and colleges to better serve the students who visit with her. In particular, Ziemyte described her interactions with UK’s entomology department.

“They had some bugs at their table, and they were investigating how different bugs respond to different thermal conditions,” she said. “I also talked to some folks doing geology research, and they were looking at using drones for geological surveys and … looking at how the land changes over time. There was also one person I talked to who was looking at how different bacteria or yeast in wine fermentation can be used to produce different flavors and aromas. [It was] very cool all around.”

Another research ambassador, Emily Keaton, is also involved with UK research and hopes to share it with others. Keaton, a senior studying sociology, philosophy and neuroscience, started her research experience in UK’s Appalachian Studies department.

“I had no idea this experience would lead me to where it has when I leaped into conducting oral histories and analyzing the data independently,” she said. “I have so enjoyed that research is an opportunity to ask questions, seek answers to them and then find both answers and new, exciting questions coming back to you.”

Keaton is currently collaborating with UK’s sociology department and the Nunn Oral History Center to publish a manuscript detailing the modern college experience.

“We did interviews and studies with students across the country to document … how students are riddled with trauma, financial instability, insecurity [and] exposure to hate acts during their college years now,” Keaton said. “The divide and negative effects seem to be on the rise, and maybe … we can take measures to bring institutions back to student success and not unaffordable [and] consumeristic.”

Though Keaton did not display this research at the expo, she said she still got to explain it while recruiting interested students for programs and fellowships.

“Fingers crossed that 2022 brings some safe in-person conferences back researchers’ way,” she said.

Ziemyte said she hoped the expo introduced students to the variety of research opportunities available in Lexington.

“Research can be collecting data and doing experiments, and it can also be reading documents or talking to people, so there’s bound to be something out there for anyone wanting to do research,” she said.