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W&M undergraduates adopt trending research communication formats

The Charles Center’s annual research symposium will be virtual this year in response to COVID-19, an adjustment which has opened opportunities for William & Mary undergraduate researchers to be at the forefront of academia’s shift towards succinct, online research communication. In contrast to traditional text-heavy poster presentations, student researchers will write brief abstracts, produce three-minute video presentations, or create a visual abstract to represent the story of their results.
The trend toward digitizing research presentation formats in the academic community began long before COVID-19. This is also true for the push to make research presentations more succinct and accessible to non-experts, especially through social media formats such as Twitter. While the coronavirus prompted the Charles Center to change the symposium’s presentation formats, Professor Dan Cristol, Faculty Director of Undergraduate Research at the Charles Center, anticipates continuing these practices in the future.
“Being forced to explain a complicated study, to rise up above the trees and explain the whole forest, is an extremely valuable training opportunity for student researchers,” Cristol said. “We’ll add back the in-person events when we can, because they also provide valuable interactions, but I hope we retain the concise virtual formats too, because that is the direction research communication is headed and we need our graduates to be prepared for the future,” Cristol added.
Monroe Scholars who conducted pilot studies after their first summer will present a written abstract, a very short paragraph describing the project’s research question or objectives, and explaining its context, methodology, and significance. Abstracts appear at the beginning of nearly all published academic articles and often determine whether a reader continues to the full-length article. Since the advent of online journal publishing and paywalls, the abstract is often the only part of an article that is read. For these reasons, they are concise - no longer than 250 words - and free of jargon.
Honors and Honors Fellowship students will create a pre-recorded Three Minute Thesis (3MT®). Since its development at the University of Queensland in Australia over a decade ago, the 3MT® format has become popular among researchers, especially graduate students. It challenges researchers to condense years of highly specific study into a three-minute presentation, free of technical language and using only one slide.

{{youtube:medium|9fRfQnY3-nE, Paige Little '21: Schizophrenia and Attenuating Attentional Dysfunction}}
The 3MT® pushes the researcher to zoom out and communicate the findings and significance of their work as a compelling story. The presentation should be easy to follow and easy for a non-specialist audience to understand, avoiding jargon and explaining all technical terms to the audience.
 A Systemic Review of Single-sided Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Data Matrix Pencil Processing Other undergraduates who conducted research this year may choose to create a three-minute video with up to eight slides, or they may design a visual abstract. The visual abstract, also known as the graphical abstract among scientific researchers, uses graphs, diagrams, or images to visually present the basic overview or crux of a research project. Visual abstracts contain minimal text because they are often viewed quickly as a reader decides whether to proceed to the full article. To make the job a bit easier, however, the Charles Center is asking student researchers to submit a 100-word expanded caption alongside their visual abstract.
This succinct visual abstract format is innovative, and like the three-minute thesis video, it is quickly gaining popularity. A growing number of research journals require authors to submit a visual abstract along with their written abstract. They are especially popular in online academic journals’ Tables of Contents, where research articles compete for clicks like so many other streams of information online.
The Charles Center’s COVID-safe undergraduate research symposium will expose William & Mary students to the research community’s trending presentation formats. Moreover, each of the new presentation formats - the brief written abstract, three-minute video, and visual abstract - teach students to succinctly communicate their work to a general audience.

Visit the Undergraduate Research Month page for more student abstracts, videos, and events!