Graham Lavender, OCULA President, introduces himself.
It might seem like liberty and the city; surveillance, security and urban governance; Atlantic salmon restoration in Lake Ontario; and immigrant women’s health issues have little in common until you put them all together for a themed session titled Research Informing Policy at an interdisciplinary undergraduate research conference. This is what we do at Inquiry@Queen’s, an undergraduate research conference now in its 12th year.
Many students do not have the opportunity to present their work outside their own classrooms. This may be especially true in the humanities and social sciences. Inquiry@Queen’s provides an opportunity for students from all disciplines to share the results of their inquiry, creative activity and research by giving an oral presentation or presenting a performance, creative work or poster to an interdisciplinary audience. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference allows students to look at their own research through different lenses and discuss it with students and faculty from different disciplines.
Promotional material for the Inquiry@Queen’s conference
The idea for the conference came from one of Queen’s University’s Chairs in Teaching and Learning and led to a partnership with the Library. Since 2007, it has been planned, organized and hosted by that same faculty member, the Library, the Queen’s Learning Commons (QLC) with support from university administration, faculty, undergraduate and graduate student groups and colleagues from across the university.
The conference is constantly evolving as we see what works and what does not. We have discontinued some activities over the years, including a conference reception which proved to be too expensive. And we have added others—the latest being the first ever undergraduate Three Minute Thesis contest, which was organized by the Alma Mater Society (Queen’s undergraduate student government) and presented as part of the 11th annual conference. The key is to remain flexible—collaborate with your partners to see what works and discard what does not.
There are many reasons why the QLC and Queen’s University Library are a good fit for this event. We have great spaces, and the QLC partners provide support to the students, including providing workshops on effective presentations, showcasing research with a poster and assistance with abstract writing. Our student assistants are available to help with planning and hosting and this in turn becomes a learning experience for them. Perhaps, most importantly, the Library, as emphasized in our mission statement, is a community of learning and research and the place where people engage deeply with each other to ask critical questions and build new ideas.
This endeavour, of course, is not without its challenges. But each year we all agree that the benefits—for the students, for the QLC and the Library—all outweigh the challenges, and we are always ready to start the planning for next year’s conference.
Jackie Druery is Head Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian at Queen’s University and one of the coordinators of the Inquiry@Queen’s Undergraduate Research Conference. She can be reached at drueryj [at] queensu.ca.