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What it’s like to Present at a Student Research Conference

In May 2022, Boise State sent three graduates and one undergraduate researcher to the Northwest Biomechanics Symposium held at Washington State University. All four researchers work at the Center for Orthopaedic and Biomechanics Research (COBR) lab, under the direction of Tyler Brown, associate professor of kinesiology. Students Eli Walker, Eric Francis, Nic Hunt, and Matthew Robinett had the opportunity to present their work to students and researchers within the region who were also interested in Biomechanics research.

The student researchers processed different hypotheses and answered different research questions based on a collection of data for the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. A lot of this research had to do with the tibia, the shin bone. Each student analyzed a portion of the data, and gained the opportunity to submit their work. All of the students earned podium presentations, as compared to a poster presentation. The podium presentation was given to a large group on the stage, and was followed by a thorough question and answer about their research.

Eli Walker Headshot

Gaining confidence for presenting a thesis: Eli Walker

Walker completed his undergraduate degree, at Boise State, in kinesiology with an emphasis in biomechanics. During his time as a graduate assistant, he taught Applied Biomechanics and Introduction to Biomechanics to kinesiology undergraduates. His research was focused on “Tibial compression during activities of daily living in older/ younger adults while walking up the stairs and normal walk.” Walker selected this research project because he had already been gathering information on tibial compression, the pressure placed on the shin bone as a person walks. He wanted to gather more data on stress fractures for older adults that come as a result of high pressure.

Walker felt nervous to present in front of so many biomechanics experts, knowing they might have questions about his research. But he felt very well prepared because Brown helped him prepare for the presentation. Although he was nervous, he found the additional questions to be very helpful and good preparation for his upcoming thesis presentation. Other than the opportunity to present, he enjoyed spending time with the members of the COBR and Boise Applied Biomechanics of Infants (BABI) lab outside of the work that they do. He also found the other presentations to be very interesting, and encouraging to see so many people with a similar passion for biomechanics.

Attendees told Walker that he is a good presenter and public speaker, which helped boost his confidence. He also found that the hard work and practice that he put into his presentation paid off. For students that are considering research, Walker suggests getting involved early in your undergraduate career, and checking with advisors on the best way to get a research-based education. Walker successfully defended his thesis and graduated with his master’s degree in December.

Nic Hunt Headshot

Building stronger friendships: Nic Hunt

Nic Hunt, who received his Bachelors and Master’s degree at Boise State, and is now pursuing his PhD, was also selected to participate in the Biomechanics Symposium. Hunt’s research was based on joint stress of the knee, and the comparison between older and younger adults. He used a variety of analysis to assess the data he collected, including waveform analysis, and motion capture analysis. He was excited to attend the event, being that it was the first in-person event since 2020.

As he prepared to defend his thesis, he treated his presentation as a trial run, to see what he needed to improve before presenting his thesis later in the year. Throughout the research process he learned that he really enjoyed collecting data and coding information to come to a conclusion. He also has served as a mentor to undergraduate, and masters-level students coming up in the biomechanics program. These experiences, along with presenting his research have encouraged him to continue in research.

Hunt enjoyed attending the event in order to seek guidance from peers, and faculty members in the audience. He was able to learn a lot from other presentations, and found the new technology presented to be very interesting. He also enjoyed getting closer to the members of Boise State’s BABI lab who he previously hadn’t had the opportunity to meet before.“ It brought our labs a lot closer together,” explained Hunt.

Eric Francis Headshot

Connecting with others in your field: Eric Francis

Francis graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in exercise science before coming to Boise State for his master’s degree in kinesiology. He just recently finished his first year of master’s school and also serves as a graduate research assistant at the COBR lab. Francis, a lifelong runner, decided to look at load carriage running, which is running with a weighted vest, and tibial stress fractures with a variety of surfaces, such as simulated rocks and foam. Since his data collection was different from other students, he was tasked with collecting the data himself.

After being encouraged to apply, Francis was excited to travel to the symposium to participate in more conferences for his professional development. He was happy to have scored a podium presentation, as a result of his ability to explain the abstract concept he chose in a way that was digestible to a variety of audiences. He said that a crowd of about 80 people were there to watch his speech and he enjoyed sharing his findings with the academic crowd.

Francis noted that it was special to be around so many biomechanics experts because he “felt more connected at a regional or national level in a way you don’t feel in Boise city limits.” The conversation helped him draw more ideas on possible research questions, and figure out what kinds of work he is not interested in. He recommends that all students try and attend similar events and reach out to professors or students in labs to get your foot in the door.

Matthew Robinett Headshot

Learning from others: Matthew Robinett

Robinett graduated from Boise State in May with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. This fall, he began the Master of Science in kinesiology program. At the time of the symposium he was an undergraduate research assistant, but upon graduation he became a graduate research assistant. While taking a 10-week summer internship at Montana State he was introduced to a project working on signal quality with electromyography or EMG, which is the ability to measure electricity of a muscle. This came at a perfect time because Brown was looking for someone with EMG experience. His research project was to look at muscle activation differences in older and younger adults.

Although it was stressful to complete the deadlines on time for the symposium, he is thankful that he put in the extra effort to display his work. After he was accepted into the symposium, he was not sure what to expect, especially as an undergraduate. He was pleased to find that everyone was very understanding, supportive and patient during his presentation and the question and answer session that followed.

“It was such a great experience for an undergraduate, anyone trying to make their first step should try it,” said Robinett. Outside of his own presentation, he enjoyed seeing the other research that was introduced at the event. His favorite research presentation was conducted by a student from the University of Columbia. They gathered research based on how people fall, by simulating falls in a five by five cube.

The opportunity helped Robinett understand the complexity of the scientific research process and the extent to which you must understand the material you present. For undergraduates who have an interest in research, Robinett suggests they get involved, as early as possible. There are plenty of opportunities at Boise State to join research projects or shadow existing students.

Opportunities to get research experience as an undergraduate

Speak with your faculty about volunteering to help them with their research. The university does have the following formal opportunities: HERC Fellowship, LSAMP Summer Research Experience, and Vertically Integrated Projects. For students working on undergraduate research, they can choose to enroll in the course Undergraduate Research Experience.

In addition, students can participate or attend the Undergraduate Research Showcase in April and the Idaho Conference on Undergraduate Research this summer. Those two events celebrate undergraduate research at Boise State and the state of Idaho. They are an opportunity for university and community members to explore the various research projects happening at Boise State. Graduate students can participate in the Graduate Student Showcase in April.