The Denman Undergraduate Research Forum: What It Is and Why You Should Participate

For those of you who don’t know, Ohio State is a research university! This means your professors, in addition to giving lectures, conduct research in their respective fields. More than 20 years ago, an Ohio State alumnus named Richard Denman wanted to shed more light on the undergraduate students who were conducting research alongside these professors, and give them an opportunity to present their work.

Thus, the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum was born! Here’s what you should know about the forum as a first-year student:

1. What is it?

The Denman is an event held over the course of a single day in the RPAC, where more than 500 students present posters summarizing their research projects and their results. Each project is judged by at least three people (faculty, graduate students, or corporate judges). Multiple winners are selected from different fields of study, receiving cash prizes. About 80 percent of students who apply to present are accepted.

 2. How much time would I need to dedicate to the process?

Students will spend anywhere from 10-15 hours a week on their research, whether it be during fall or spring semester, or over the summer. Students spend at least one semester, if not an entire year, completing their work. Dr. Allison Snow, director of the Undergraduate Research Office, recommends tailoring a semester schedule to suit your expected research schedule.

3. So I can get a cash prize… what else?

Winning an award at the Denman is much more than receiving a cash prize. This becomes a valuable part of your resume, and can lead to future research down the road, even after graduation. Presenting in and of itself is impressive, though, whether you win an award or not. It shows future employers or graduate schools that you are serious and passionate about your field!

4. How do I get started?

The best place to start is the Undergraduate Research Office website. There you can find out about their information sessions and workshops, contact a peer researcher in your field, sign up to receive emails about funding opportunities, and find their advising hours. You should also start reaching out to graduate students and professors about research opportunities they may have. Most students begin by volunteering in other research projects before starting their own.

5. This is the first time I have heard about the Denman, am I behind??

No, not at all! In fact, Dr. Snow advises that a student’s first year is the time to learn, observe, and talk to others who have already conducted research. Go to the forum (Wednesday, March 25 from 12 p.m.-3 p.m.) and ask presenters about their experiences! If you find after some investigation that you are interested in participating, your second or third year is the time to contact faculty, and start to form an idea of what kind of research you want to conduct. By senior year (at the latest), you should be ready to present your work!

Participating in research and the Denman is extremely rewarding, but it’s not for everyone. THAT’S OK. If it is for you, don’t let it overwhelm you! Take it step-by-step, use the Undergraduate Research Office as your guide, and before you know it, you’ll be presenting!

Research — not just something done by faculty

I’m a science fair girl. I come from a science fair family. The site of a tri-fold display board brings back fond memories of projects on biorhythms and on dementia and on the impact of environment on memory recall. These are projects that won awards at the state science day, people!

The projects I remember from those bygone days are nothing compared to the sophisticated research on display annually at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum – the 2014 edition to be held on March 26 at the RPAC. The research happening everyday on campus – the discovery of new knowledge – is pretty impressive, even more so when we know that there are many, many undergraduate students who are contributing to and leading research efforts of their own. And that’s what we get to see at the Denman.

The Denman participants will present their research via a poster – and not like what you can find at the tent poster sales at the beginning of the school year:

They also present their findings orally to a pair of faculty judges. Participants are selected based on their abstract submissions, as the Denman is limited to only 550 projects. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with a student who I haven’t spoken with in a while, and he was gushing – gushing – about the three research projects with which he’s been involved in the last year. Three. He started his involvement in a professor’s lab as a first-year student. It’s never too early. And he’s not even presenting this year at the Denman – that’s how much great work  is happening here!

As you walk through the display floor, you never know what kinds of projects you’ll see. Some of the winners last year include projects titled:

  • Calculating Susceptibility from Local Field Inhomogeneities for Applications in Multiple Sclerosis Studies
  • Effect of Early Treadmill Training on Blood-Spinal Cord Barrier Permeability after Spinal Cord Injury in Mice
  • Biochemical Characterization of 6-phospho-β-glucosidases to Gain Insights into Cellobiose Utilization by Clostridium beijerinckii NCIMB 8052

I don’t know about you, but I love an intimidating title, not to mention the actual research behind it — for those of you wondering, Clostridium beijerinckii NCIMB 8052 is “a saccharolytic, strictly anaerobic, mesophylic, motile, rod-shaped bacteria with oval, sub-terminal spores.”

Fortunately for me, the projects aren’t all in what we used to call the hard sciences. There are also the categories of business, arts, and humanities. Some winners last year in these categories included:

  • Let’s Talk Money: Impulsivity, Social Influence and Consumers’ Saving Behavior
  • Wyrd: The Woes of Postmodernity
  • Corruption and International Aid Allocation: A Complex Dance

So, if you find yourself inspired to find out what fascinating work your fellow students are doing, check out the Denman. I’ll be the one trying to look 20 years younger and setting up the card-table.