Seniors share research presentations with peers at regional conference
Four Furman students shared their research with peers from six other schools in the Southern Conference. The SoCon Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF), held Oct. 13 and 14 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, featured oral and poster presentations by more than 80 students from six Southeastern states.
Catherine Davis ’24 and Abby Stapleton ’24 gave oral presentations at the forum, and Chadwick Frost ’24 and Kaisa Menkhaus ’24 displayed research posters.
“SURF is a great opportunity for Furman students to present the findings of the research or creative activities in a public, professional setting,” said Erik Ching, the interim associate provost for engaged learning and the Walter Kenneth Mattison Professor of History.
Entrance into the forum is competitive, said Ching, the director of Furman’s undergraduate research program, however, “it is a student-friendly setting in which Furman’s students can share their work with counterparts throughout the Southern Conference.”
Such experiences align with The Furman Advantage, an educational framework that provides every student an individualized educational pathway and opportunities for high-impact learning experiences, Ching said. In addition to Furman Engaged, an annual campus-wide celebration of engaged learning, students are encouraged to seek off-campus opportunities to present their work.
“A key aspect of any high-impact experience is a public presentation of one’s research findings or creative production,” he said.
Furman’s reputation for fostering research is reflected by significant funding in recent years from the National Science Foundation. The school was ranked 31st in the nation for undergraduate research and creative projects by U.S. News and World Report in 2022.
Davis, an English and philosophy double major, discussed her research on “Monstrosity and Manners in the Gothic Novel” in an oral presentation. The senior Bell Tower Scholarship recipient looked at 19th-century medical texts, etiquette guides and fiction like “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “Wuthering Heights” to trace how science was taught and discussed contemporarily.
“I appreciated being able to share my research with other students, both to inform them of how science interacts with our everyday lives as well as how we can see societal biases come into play within scientific discourses,” said Davis, who plans to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy and become a college professor. “As someone who wants to go into academics, (this) was a good chance for me to practice presenting a paper, and it taught me everything involved.”
Frost, a neuroscience major, brought his poster “Dreaming and Remote Memory” to the forum. Working with Erin Wamsley, an associate professor of psychology, in Furman’s Sleep Lab, Frost investigated what subjects dreamed about as they napped right after being asked to recall a time in their lives when they were extremely angry or upset.
Frost, who is also a Bell Tower Scholarship recipient, is still collecting the data on the research he began this past summer.
“When I took a look at the data, it seems that people who have dreams related to their negative experience actually rate the emotion of the dream as positive,” said Frost, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and conduct research in psychopathology or brain imaging. “It’s actually a theory in dream research that dreams sort of strip the emotion from negative experiences that we have.”
Stapleton, a chemistry major with a minor in data analytics, gave an oral presentation on the biochemistry research she conducted with Meghan Breen, an assistant professor of chemistry, investigating why a particular pathogenic yeast species has proven to be so resistant to the frontline treatment fluconazole.
The yeast in question “is especially lethal in bloodstream infections, and we’re concerned that it’s highly prevalent within at-risk populations, with a mortality rate of up to 50%,” she said.
Stapleton, a Townes Scholar, has been working on her research since May 2022. She is in the process of applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs, with the hopes of advancing both research and direct patient care as a physician-scientist.
“The experience helped boost my confidence with public speaking,” said the aspiring linguistics graduate student. “I also developed new ideas and interests from interacting with some of the other participants.”