Despite Covid worries and flight delays, student presents undergraduate research at biology conference |

SAN DIEGO, Ca.–I have been researching immigrant health and immigration trends in Lawrence County for the past year. Recently, I had the opportunity to travel and present this research, including at Thiel College, Louisiana State University, and the upcoming Undergraduate Research and Arts Conference at Westminster College. By far the most eventful conference, however, was the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. This is the story of my adventures at this conference!

In truth, I am lucky to have been able to attend the conference. I had extremely close contact with an unknowing Covid-19 patient shortly before the flight, but never contracted the disease. But I left healthy and my flights were from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas and then Las Vegas to San Diego. The flight from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas went well; however, my flight to Las Vegas was getting increasingly delayed. A few hours later, around 10 p.m., Spirit canceled my flight, leaving me in Las Vegas stuck with my morning lecture.

On my last stroke of luck, I made a new friend at the airport who got me there on time. Molly recently graduated from York College in Pennsylvania and took the same Las Vegas-San Diego flight. We agreed to split the cost of a car to get to San Diego that night if the flight was canceled, and by midnight we were on the road in one of the last cars they had left, a Mustang. After taking quick showers at the Airbnb and a short nap, it was time for a conference!

Presentation at WCBSURC

Even with the lack of sleep, it was a rewarding experience. I have seen and heard about the different topics in the field of biology, and the way they were presented provided many ideas for improving my work. Questioning the posters of other presenters has been a useful practice to look at others and my work with a critical eye. But as far as my presentation, explaining to hosts of innovative biology students my work and what it means was amazing. Sure, the practice was great, but seeing people’s curiosity and fascination during my presentations was one of the most rewarding and satisfying things I’ve ever done.

At the end of the conference, I listened to Dr. Jeffery Kelly, winner of the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, discuss his work in creating drugs for dementia gain-of-function diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. It was truly inspiring to see a person able to do painstaking work with individual proteins and turn it into drugs that could save many lives. So if his research could change the world, why couldn’t mine?

Loma Point

The ocean view from Point Loma Nazarene University

I have found that getting involved in research is easier than I imagined. Connecting with professors and expressing your interests was my first step. And once my work started to come to fruition, I found that presenting my work was valuable practice and criticism. Across the conferences I have attended, one of the common motives is to jump in and believe the net will appear. I encourage anyone with a specific interest to take a similar leap!

Ryan Armstrong is a second year Biology/History student at Westminster College.

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