Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Student researchers present at regional conference

Bultje presented her research on insulin binding at the conference this weekend. Photo courtesy Sarah Bultje

Calvin student summer researchers presented their work at the 2023 West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science (WMRUGS) Research Conference hosted at the Van Andel Institute on November 4. 

This conference — organized by a number of regional colleges and universities — gave students the chance to share their research and connect with internship, employment and graduate school recruiters, including but not limited to those from Gentex Corporation, Purdue University, Van Andel Institute graduate school and the University of Michigan. 

Keith Grasman, biology professor and Calvin’s liaison on the conference organizing committee, has been participating in the planning committee since its inception 17 years ago. He told Chimes that this conference is very valuable for students looking to go to graduate school or into STEM-related fields when they graduate. “One of the goals of this conference was to get students from regional institutions together and let them interact. Networking allows connections for new projects, ideas to be passed back and forth, and new ideas to be reviewed and given feedback,” said Grasman.

For Luke Witvliet, a biochemistry student on the pre-med track, the conference also allowed him and his research partner Sarah Bultje to see all sides of their possible career paths. Witvliet told Chimes that in medical school and residency as a physician, part of the field of medicine is research, and…that’s something that both of us have to determine in our future careers. What do we want? How much do we want to be focused on our work as a clinician versus as a teacher, as a professor, researcher?”

Despite the regional nature of the schools participating in the conference, Grasman said the conference organizers still aim to “give students the experience they would get if they went to a larger or national or international conference.” That experience includes the visual and oral presentation of their research to fellow students and faculty members, as well as a period to answer questions from those observing the poster. “This helps students practice for graduate school work or later on in their careers when they have to present their research,” Grasman said.   

But even for those uninterested in pursuing research as a future career, Witvliet and Bultjie both emphasized the value of learning within the research process — “It teaches you persistence and how to keep pushing through,” Bultje said — and the relationships built through working together. And according to Witvliet, research is accessible. Despite how daunting it seems, “it’s not like you’ve got a bunch of like whizzes who know exactly what they’re doing all the time,” he said. “It’s more about pursuing more knowledge and working together and getting better.”

The conference, a culmination of all the summer research, allows students and faculty to see the results of others’ pursuit of knowledge. “It’s also really good to see other people’s projects, and I feel like it’s just a way to learn a lot of new things,” Bultje said; she participated in the same conference last year as well. 

That is the most exciting aspect of the conference for Grasman as well. “I always enjoyed listening to [students] speak. Even though I do not know all the students individually, I know the amount of effort that goes into the creation of a single poster or a scientific talk,” Grasman said.

About 400 attendees from 21 different schools participated in the conference, presenting on 145 different projects from over 20 academic areas. 

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