Ontario Psychology students showcase research at Brock conference

Psychology students from across Ontario had the chances to experience Brock’s main campus — albeit virtually — and share their research with their peers and professors during a recent conference hosted by the University.

More than 250 registrants came together on the virtual Gather.Town platform for the 52nd annual Ontario Psychology Undergraduate Thesis Conference (AOPUTC) held Friday, June 24.

The organizing committee created a virtual Brock University campus to welcome undergraduate students, professors and others from 15 universities across the province.

“It actually looked like our campus, just electronically recreated,” says event co-organizer Osama Chattha (BSc ’16, BA ’19, MA ’22), who completed undergraduate degrees in Neuroscience and Psychology before graduating with a Master of Arts from the Department of Applied Linguistics earlier this month. “It was a virtual Brock, as if you were walking in from East Academic along the path going past Mackenzie Chown on your right and Cairns on your left — basically the whole layout, recreated all the way up to Schmon Tower.”

In addition to checking out the environment and interacting with others in real time, participants explored sessions where 144 students presented virtual posters, and attended a keynote address from Assistant Professor William Hall of Brock’s Department of Psychology, entitled “Collectively Constructing Gender-Inclusive Work Cultures in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.”

Digital graphic of avatars seated next to desks against a purple background.

Co-organizers Tim Murphy, Osama Chattha and Sara Stephenson were joined by graduate student volunteers Alyssa Thibeault, Emily Davis, Rosa Torres and Sarah Henderson in the volunteer headquarters. Not shown are Andrew Armstrong and Gurprince Attlas

Conference co-organizer and former Neuroscience student Sara Stephenson (BSc ’18) was excited to see the day finally arrive.

“I’ve been looking forward to highlighting all of the psychology thesis research, not just from Brock, but from across all of Ontario,” she says. “It’s a great way for the students to network with faculty and other students and celebrate their research.”

Professor Tim Murphy in Brock’s Department of Psychology was the lead conference organizer and has been involved in the University’s participation in AOPUTC for the past 16 years. Each fall, he sends out a letter to fourth-year thesis students encouraging them to register.

“The thesis is a tremendous amount of work, so in my letter, I say that those who are going to graduate school should definitely attend to show off their research, get a bit of experience and have a conference presentation for their CV,” he says. “But also, those who are not going to go to graduate school should definitely attend, because it’s their last chance to present their research and show off what they’ve done for the past year.”

Ishita Kapoor (BA ’22) presented her thesis, “The effects of online materials on student performance: types of resources and mode of delivery,” which she describes as a pedagogical study aimed at discerning whether the use of optional course study materials is associated with better course performance.

She was impressed by “the fascinating research on an array of topics” from her peers, as well as the thought-provoking questions she received from Brock faculty members about her work.

“I decided to take part in the conference because it provides undergraduate students a platform to gain valuable experience in presenting our research,” she says. “It was an excellent learning opportunity for public speaking and poster presentations, as well as an avenue to build connections and network.”

Ron Smitko (BA ’22), whose thesis, “Episodic Simulation of Helping Behaviour in Novel Scenarios Across the Lifespan,” explored how future thinking can affect a person’s individual behaviour, agrees that the chance to share his work and meet potential future colleagues and mentors was too good to pass up.

Digital campus map in green and brown with key conference locations marked by letters A through E.

The virtual campus replicates Brock’s layout, marked on this map with key locations for participants.

“I was very excited to share the research and show people what I’ve been doing,” he says. “And it was also a great opportunity to network and meet other people in the academic field.”

Both Kapoor and Smitko enjoyed the conference platform.

“I think using Gather.Town was a truly inspired idea. It was really engaging owing to the ability to move around freely and explore the virtually replicated Brock, and I loved how the organizers included pictures of the spots on campus,” says Kapoor. “I’m also glad the event was live and not pre-recorded.”

Smitko says the way the platform enabled people to interact camera-to-camera with others had a similar feel to face-to-face encounters at an in-person conference.

“We had our posters on a virtual poster board, so our avatar would stand with our poster and if people stopped to look or stepped onto our ‘mat’ to ask a question, we could talk and interact,” he explains. “Gather.Town made it a great experience, and in terms of doing something like this online, it’s very easy to use and understand, and very user friendly.”

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