Just two weeks after I started my Ph.D. at TU Dresden, I attended my first conference as a Ph.D. student. It wasn’t a specialist research conference, though.
The “Second Conference on Student Research,” held in fall 2017, was an interdisciplinary conference organized by the bologna.lab from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU). It gathered 130+ students from all over Germany and 45+ different disciplines for a two-day conference, featuring talks and posters from all different research fields.
It was both exciting and challenging to present my Master’s thesis research to such a broad audience and, vice versa, listen to so many different presentations. I was intrigued. Right after the conference, I approached one of the organizers, figuring that the conference was already a pretty well-established event, in a sense, that it was already determined which universities were going to host it next. And that there would be no reasonable chance to bring this conference to Dresden for the next couple of years.
But the main take-away I got from this conversation was the inspiration to start an event myself. Eventually, I remembered the Postgraduate Research Showcase, organized by the science faculty at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), which I attended in 2016 as an exchange student. So what about organizing a “Student Research Expo” at TU Dresden? Involving all kinds of research projects, from every faculty and every student doing research being able to participate – no matter whether it’s within the scope of a term paper or a Ph.D. thesis.
After discussing with several colleagues back in Dresden, I wrote an email to the then Rector of TU Dresden, Hans-Müller Steinhagen, who happily forwarded the proposal to the then Vice-Rector Research, Gerhard Rödel, and a few weeks later, I found myself involved in a meeting on how to implement the “Student Research Expo” in practice.
For the next half a year, I wrote tons of emails, filled out the paperwork to secure a lecture hall for the event, organized funding by BASF Schwarzheide and Southwall Europe, and ordered, last but not least, catering. The plan was the following: Every student would prepare a poster contribution in advance and get 90 seconds to pitch the project to the audience. Afterwards there would be a poster session to discuss research in-depth and make connections, and in the end, a jury would judge the best contributions, and in addition, there was an audience award.
Along the way, I assembled a team of fellow students and dear friends to help with preparations and the actual event. The Team Initiation & Interaction led by Christian Bruchatz and Robert Fischer organized workshops on “How to design a poster and pitch your project.” And about two months before the expo, we opened the call for proposals, and many people helped us spread the word around campus. When submission closed, we had received more than 50 contributions. That was incredible!
Finally, on 4th of July 2018 the first “Student Research Expo” (dt. Ausstellung für studentische Forschung / #StuFoExpo) kicked-off.
With about a hundred visitors over the course of one afternoon, my team and I soon figured that organizing larger-scale events is an art in itself: Our keynote was running straight over schedule, which gave me just enough time to call up maintenance to provide our catering service with power. Only about 35 students showed up for the pitch session, while the others were caught up with lectures or coursework. Naturally, the first run of such an event was kinda exploratory.
Finally, the poster session went smoothly. But collecting all the feedback from the jury and the audience votes took us way too long, and so for the award ceremony, basically only the student researchers were left.
Nevertheless, despite all organizational obstacles, the first student research expo sparked something off. All the positive feedback and encouragement we received showed the potential for doing more about student research than just submitting theses and moving on.
While for TU Dresden, the second round of excellence was coming up in late 2018 / early 2019, and everyone was busy preparing, we
a) received substantial financial support from the Studentenstiftung Dresden (many, many thanks to Jens Bemme!), which helped us to employ a student assistant, Paul Petzold, for organizing the 2nd #StuFoExpo
b) and we even contributed to the TU Dresden application in the Excellence Universities Funding Line! With the help of Jörg Schmidt and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching (ZiLL), we applied for FOSTER – Funds fOr STudEnt Research – and therefore, I am particularly proud and happy that TU Dresden made it into yet another round of Excellence funding.
Despite having moved to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology within my Ph.D., I continued to organize the Second Student Research Expo together with our student assistant Paul Petzold. It took place in November 2019 in the ballroom of TU Dresden: thoroughly planned, a lot more organized, slightly smaller scale, but all in all, an amazing event. And with the actual poster exhibition being on display all around campus for several weeks. The financial support of the Studenten Stiftung Dresden had greatly helped us bridge the time until the FOSTER funds became available at the end of 2019.
Fast forward, even in the face of Corona, the Third Student Research Expo took place last week on September 1, 2020, as an online event: featuring the marvelous keynote talk by Ronny Timmreck on his work with leXolar and Senorics, and 20 student pitches, that were pre-recorded as a video and which you’ll also find here.
I am super happy watching this event evolve within the last couple of years, and I am excited for the student research initiative to unfold its full potential at TU Dresden and beyond – by connecting students, researchers, and industry and inspiring students to pursue research from an early stage on, maybe even before their Bachelor’s thesis.
If you have any ideas for the next expo, if you want to exchange experiences or if you would like to support us, feel free to drop us an email:
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