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AAAS Pacific Division to Focus on Student Research Ideas

Globe showing the western US
The AAAS Pacific Division encompasses California, Hawaii, Idaho, western Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and all other countries along the Pacific Basin. | Frank Jr/Adobe Stock

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Pacific Division is inviting students in the sciences to develop and share plans for future research for a July virtual event – a pandemic-era twist on traditional symposia that look back at completed research.

Moving Forward From COVID-19: A Student and Educator Virtual Forum” will be held online July 24-25 and co-hosted by the AAAS Pacific Division and scientific research honor society Sigma Chi.

“The Pacific Division has always had a strong emphasis on education and has always had a strong focus on students,” said James Bower, executive director of the division. After 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many students’ progress has been hindered by lab closures or off-campus learning, the forum will “give students a chance to consider, think about and be enthusiastic about the science they are going to do.”

One of AAAS’ three regional divisions, the Pacific Division was formed more than a century ago to bring together scientists and scientific societies from across the West Coast. Since then, the division has met nearly annually to provide scientists, students, educators and others interested in science a forum to share and discuss research with a particular impact on the region, which encompasses California, Hawaii, Idaho, western Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and all other countries bordering or lying within the Pacific Basin. Motivated by the mission of “Thinking Globally, Organizing Regionally and Acting Locally,” the division focuses on cross-disciplinary research, science-informed policy, local engagement and student empowerment. 

The 2020 and 2021 Pacific Division annual meetings were canceled because of the pandemic, but the virtual forum will offer a new format for exploring and advancing the division’s goals. Students from all stages of their education, from high schoolers to postgraduates to citizen scientists, are encouraged to submit an abstract and short video that details their scientific motivations, interests and goals. (Several examples from Sigma Xi’s 2021 student research showcase are available to guide applicants and encourage them to flex their creative video skills in the age of TikTok.)

This forward-looking focus offers an alternative to much teaching and evaluation that retrospectively rewards people for what they have already done, Bower said. This prospective point of view is informed by his own experiences supervising graduate and undergraduate students and is particularly relevant at a moment when students’ motivation is likely to be flagging, he said.

“I would always ask students, ‘Why are you doing what you're doing?’ The ones that could tell me explicitly this is why I’m interested in this, I took that to be a good indication of likely success,” he said.

“If you’re talking about advancing science, you’re really talking about supporting and encouraging motivation to be involved in science,” Bower added.

Students applying to participate are also encouraged to identify scientists they would like to talk to and institutions they are interested to learn more about, so Bower is working to set up real-time mentoring groups and informational sessions during the July 24-25 event, with screenings of the students’ video kicking off open discussion of future research possibilities.

Another facet of the forum will be for another group affected by the challenges of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: educators. The workshop will look at how the pandemic has changed teaching – and explore which aspects of those forced changes might be valuable to incorporate moving forward post-pandemic. 

Student submissions are due June 22, while registration for educators and other participants will continue through the start of the event. Outstanding student submissions will be awarded travel grants to the next Pacific Division annual meeting, which will offer students a chance to share the results next year of their plans outlined this summer. That meeting, a hybrid in-person and online event hosted by Boise State University, will be held in Idaho June 16-19, 2022.


Andrea Korte

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