What an Honor(arium)!
Undergraduate students who participate in research participate in poster sessions fairly often. Less often, but still pretty frequently, undergrad researchers present their findings during presentations at a professional conference convention. What's really rare-for an undergraduate-is being invited to present and then rewarded with an honorarium-a monetary payment given in compensation for some professional service. In short, it's getting paid for something that most students would be honored to do for nothing.
Rebecca Obniski '11 a chemistry and music double-major at William & Mary has done just that! Since summer 2009, Obniski has been working on this project under the direction of William H. Starnes, Floyd Dewey Gottwald, Sr. Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus. In July, Obniski told attendees at the annual national conference of the Vinyl Products group of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in Leesburg, VA, all about her work to improve smoke suppression and fire retardance of flexible vinyl.
It's an honor to be invited to speak, especially for an undergrad, so, Obniski and Starnes, were astonished when she was also offered a $500 honorarium for her presentation-all travel expenses covered. "It didn't take much convincing," Obniski said. "I jumped at the opportunity!"
"Our students do go places, usually to go present posters," remarked Starnes. "But, to give an invited lecture at a national meeting is just unique-I've never heard of such a thing. And to get an honorarium? In chemistry? I've never heard of it before!"
SPI represents 1.1 million members and approximately a thousand companies in the country's third-largest manufacturing industry. The presentation was attended by approximately 100 to 200 people who are interested in the marketing and production of plastic products.
"To get up in front of people and present a topic that you are passionate about and have spent time on is invaluable," said Obniski. "Just the experience of answering questions and being knowledgeable on your topic and meeting other people in the industry is great."
Her future colleagues weren't the only people cheering her on. Obniski will also be attending the Society of Plastics Engineers annual national conference this fall in the vinyl plastics section. These engagements underscore the emphasis on undergraduate research at William and Mary-and how such emphasis can foster extraordinary results.
"Ever since freshman year, I took classes in the chemistry department. From the start, all the faculty and undergraduate students and graduate students have been very encouraging, very eager to talk about research," Obniski commented. "If you wander the halls in the Integrated Science Center, you can feel it's very warm and open. It's very exciting."