For over two decades, the Student Research Symposium (SRS; formerly the Student Research Conference) has provided a venue for education scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to come together and share their research in the field of education. Students from HGSE and institutions around the Greater Boston area showcase their original research in a variety of formats, including roundtables, panels, and poster presentations, in an event designed to give them essential experience in presenting their work and gaining valuable feedback from faculty and peers.
With HGSE operations moving to the virtual space in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the SRS has moved virtual, too — with its series of events being held over Zoom on Friday, April 10. The keynote address will be given by Lecturer Liz Dawes Duraisingh, Ed.M.’07, Ed.D.’13, principal investigator at Project Zero and co-director of Out of Eden Learn. Doctoral student Siwen Zhang, student organizer of this year’s symposium, has been participating in the SRS since 2012. Here, she discusses what can be expected at the 2020 SRS and the particular challenges of this year.
What is the philosophy behind the Student Research Symposium?
Siwen Zhang: The SRS is a HGSE institution that spanned over two decades and provides an opportunity for our community to come together and share our ongoing and completed work. The conference takes place over the course of a day and features panels, roundtables, and poster presentation by students from HGSE and visitors from across the country, facilitated by faculty and advanced doctoral students. The purpose of the SRC is to provide a venue for students to gain valuable conference practice and experience in a supportive environment, to network, and to learn from one another. All students are invited to propose presentations of completed research, works in progress, or non-empirical work such as literature reviews, theory papers, and policy papers.
How was the decision made to move the event to a virtual space this year?
SZ: We were closely watching the unfolding of the pandemic of COVID-19 and Harvard’s evolving response to it since late February. On March 10, we received the message from Harvard’s president to transition to virtual instruction for all graduate and undergraduate classes. At that point, we had already received all submissions to the conference and all the submissions were blindly reviewed by our volunteer Proposal Review Board members. We quickly began having intense discussions about how to best to move forward with this year’s symposium. There was not a doubt in our mind about hosting the event, but our hope was to preserve, as much as possible, the valuable features of face-to-face presentations in a virtual model.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
SZ: Thankfully, much of the work that needs to be done for the conference before the day of the event had already happened, including generating interests, recruiting reviewers, reviewing proposals, and notifying presenters, etc. The challenges that we ran into were primarily twofold. 1) Time coordination. The nature of the virtual format makes it difficult to host the conference as a coherent one-day event. Many students, potential discussants, and moderators, had relocated to different time zones, including parts of the United States and even in the world. This makes it difficult to coordinate especially for people on the same panel or roundtable. 2) Technical difficulties. We brainstormed several ways to keep the various formats of the conference presentations as close to how it would happen in person as possible. For roundtables and panel discussions, we can rely on Zoom to preserve the integrity of the presentations and allow for facilitated discussion as much as possible. However, for poster presentations, we had to make the painful decision to not have the presenters present their posters live, but instead ask them to upload a digital document instead. While this does not provide the poster presenters as much interactions as they would get in a live in-person event, our hope is by highlighting their work on our website and allowing comments from the wider community, we would be able to provide them with similar value and input.
What can we expect from Friday’s event, and what are you most looking forward to?
SZ: One of our favorite professors at HGSE, Liz Duraisingh, who was very involved in SRC herself while a doctoral student at HGSE, will give a keynote speech on strengthening collaborative relationships between researchers and practitioners in the field of education. For those who are presenting, they would look forward to forming new ties with peers across a wide network of academic scholars and receive constructive feedback on their academic work. Viewers should expect to participate in thought- provoking conversations and hear about exciting work in progress.
In addition to hoping for a virtual conference without any technical glitch, I am most looking forward to seeing my colleagues and hearing about exciting research that they have been working on throughout the year!