Soup and science leaves students inspired, curious

a/Science & Technology by

What would you say if you were asked to communicate your life’s work in three minutes? On Friday Jan. 17, five researchers attempted to complete this task over lunch at the Redpath Museum, where students listened as professors gave snapshots of their research.

“I wanted to attend Soup and Science to acquaint myself with some of the ongoing research at McGill and to meet and chat with the professors who conduct the research,” said Lily Li, a U0 Science student. “Hopefully [I can] get my foot in the door.”

Soup and Science is a bi-annual event where undergraduate students are invited to see and hear a selection of professors give short presentations on their work. Within these fast three minute segments, the speakers give just a flavour of their research, leaving the audience curious, inspired—and a little out of breath.

Unlike other departmental talks and research presentations, Soup and Science is unique in the fact that it is aimed towards peaking the interest of undergraduate students in research and providing them with resources concerning how to get involved. Victor Chisholm, the undergraduate research officer at McGill, and his team ensured students had access to various links with more information on the topic.

“We want to expose students to all sorts of areas of science they may never have thought or heard of,” said Chisholm. “We want to demystify research and researchers [and for undergraduate students to] feel comfortable talking to professors about research. We want our world-class students to know that they, too, can generate world-class knowledge and discoveries.”

Although the three-minute cap makes it difficult for professors to fully explain their research, this does not seem to be the purpose of the event. Rather, presentations are organized like a scientific teaser, filled with stimulating questions and interesting data.

Anna Naoumova, whose research focuses on the interaction between genetic and epigenetic factors—the study of how our genes are affected by both DNA sequences and inheritance—began her presentation with the question of whether we could blame our grandparents for our lifestyle today; Elena Bennett, specializing in managing landscapes for multiple ecosystem services, demonstrated her approach to sustaining agriculture for the next thousand years through what she liked to call a “‘What if’ machine.”

The presentations allowed students to gauge what topics might interest them, while providing the time afterwards to ask the professors questions about their work, which, by virtue of these micro-presentations, undoubtedly sprung up. Considering most students’ interactions with professors are limited to their time in class, Soup and Science provides a forum where they can comfortably inquire about research.

“I came for the food. But also more seriously to see what different types of careers are open to me after I finish my undergrad,” said U0 Science student Vivian Lynn.

As Soup and Science runs for a week, each session consists of different professors whose work spans a variety of research areas. According to Chisholm, he sends out invitations to approximately 50 professors each semester, of which about half express interest in attending the event. Chisholm aims to feature newer members of McGill’s faculty, as many of these researchers are conducting exciting new research programs but are less well-known than McGill’s more established professors. Whether it is the soup or the science that draws students to the Redpath Museum each semester, undergraduates continue to make an effort to attend.

“I always try to make it to Soup and Science whenever I can,” said U2 science student Susan Wang. “It’s a short time commitment that’s educational, engaging and also involves free food. I think it’s harder to find a reason not to go.”

For more information on getting involved in a lab, students are invited to attend the event “Science students: Want to know how to get involved in research?” held in Leacock 232 on Wednesday Jan. 29 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.