M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

This fall, we mark the 30th annual Murdock College Science Research Conference. In honor of this milestone, we have taken an opportunity to hear from some faculty members who have participated in the conference for several years and hear why they believe this event is so valuable to our local institutions and students.

A black and white photo of a man with curly hair smiling at the camera.
Dr. David Craig, Professor of Biology, Willamette University

Dr. David Craig believes his students need to excel at the podium just as much as they do in the lab.

“In science, ‘Have you done external presentations?’ is one of the primary metrics for success,” Dr. Craig explained in a recent conversation with the Murdock Trust. “Demonstrating a history of presenting and defending your findings in a peer forum plays into things like professional opportunities and grants. It can be really intimidating to be fresh out of school and step in front of a crowd at your first professional conference. The MCSR Conference helps significantly shift that experience for many students.”

Participating students have the opportunity to begin to gain the confidence and experience that comes with presenting research through oral and poster presentations. While this is helpful for all participants, Dr. Craig makes particular note of how the MCSR Conference opens doors that may have otherwise been closed to several students.

“More than half of my students could not afford to go to a conference like this,” he shares. “When you account for travel, lodging, and registration, cost can be a significant barrier to undergrads. By underwriting the cost of attendance, the Trust has created an opportunity for so many more students to get this important experience.”

Dr. Craig also notes that the structure and tone of the conference have helped in inspiring a more diverse group of students to pursue STEM careers.

“The Trust invests in bringing in diverse speakers and sets a positive, welcoming tone, so every participant feels like they belong,” he shares. “I was the first in my family to go to college. If you don’t have that family history, it can be challenging to see a pathway toward the career that you want. Bringing in those diverse voices and creating a space where students feel safe and supported makes it easier for participants to start to see their future. The MCSR Conference plays an important role in helping students from all backgrounds see that pathway toward a career in the sciences.”

As further testimony to the value of the conference, Dr. Craig notes that he now sees former students of his who have gone on to teach and bring their students to the event each year.

“It’s kind of like a mini-reunion every year, which is wonderful. It’s just one more example of how MCSR is more than just a conference; it’s a community.” 

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