200 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars showcase research, innovation at 2024 Graduate Research Symposium

The Wayne State University Graduate School hosted its 14th annual Graduate Research Symposium and first in-person version since 2020 on Feb. 28 at the Student Center.

Approximately 160 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars filled the Student Center ballroom during two sessions to share their research with poster presentations. Researchers from nine schools, colleges, and centers across the university participated in the Graduate School’s signature event.

“Wayne State’s graduate students and postdocs provide a unique perspective on academic research. Our diverse students and postdocs are tackling a wide array of problems both local and international,” said Graduate School Dean Amanda Bryant-Friedrich.

From 2021 – 2023, the Graduate School hosted the GRS in a fully virtual format, attracting researchers and attendees from across the world. While the 2024 version returned to an in-person format, the event still featured a global influence, with attendees and researchers from five continents. GRS officials estimated that international students and postdocs from nearly 20 countries participated.

2024 GRS winners

Posters were evaluated by faculty and postdoc judges, who listened to presentations and scored them on content, organization, and delivery. The top three scores from each poster session won monetary prizes. Winners included:

Morning session

  • 1st place: Asra Akhlaq, biological sciences, “Diet and insulin signaling promote oocyte health and fertilization in Caenorhabditis elegans.”
  • 2nd place: Aaron Lotvola, oncology, “c-Myc is downregulated by ABHD5 in prostate cancer cells.”
  • 3rd place: Yogesh Joshi, anatomy & cell biology, “Inhibiting innate immune activation improves Drosophila model of Vps13D-associated neurodegeneration.”

Afternoon session

  • 1st place: Elizabeth Slane, pharmacy & health sciences, “Flame retardant-induced neural cell death.”
  • 2nd place: Arifur Rahman, pharmacy & health sciences, “Proteomic profiling of PNPLA3 mutants in human hepatocytes reveals potential pathways in NAFLD.”
  • 3rd place: Amirreza Samarbakhsh, pharmacy & health sciences, “Discovery and development of broad-spectrum antiviral therapeutics by targeting PL protease.”

In addition to the two poster presentations, the GRS featured two “platform talks” where researchers presented their work to a wider audience. Talks are meant for a general audience and must be presented in ten minutes or less. These sessions resemble a more corporate setting and help prepare graduate students for speaking engagements later in their careers. 17 graduate students presented platform talks throughout the day.

Platform talks were evaluated by members of the GRS Planning Committee. Scoring criteria included communication, presentation organization, and stage presence. The top three scores of the day won monetary prizes.  Platform talks winners included:

  • 1st place: Franziska Loetzner, kinesiology, health & sport studies, “Exploring health-related physical fitness in elite-level Special Olympics Unified Sports.”
  • 2nd place: Rachel Sochocki, nutrition & food science, “Uncontrolled eating differentiates weight loss maintainers from regainers.”
  • 3rd place: Michael VanNostrand, pharmacy & health sciences, “Exploring perceptions of physical activity in individuals newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”

The day concluded with the Three-Minute Thesis, an international competition where participants summarized their research and the importance of their findings in three minutes or less with one visual aid. Eight graduate student finalists participated, speaking to a standing-room-only crowd.

Unlike the poster presentations and platform talks, the Three-Minute Thesis only awarded a monetary prize to the first-place winner, who was selected by popular audience vote immediately following the session. The winner, who will move on to compete at the regional Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools competition, was Samantha Heldman from the Department of Pharmacology, who presented “From broken screens to broken seams: can exposure to LCMs contribute to obesity?”

How the GRS prepares graduate students for careers

“The platform talks and Three-Minute Thesis are tremendous learning experiences for our graduate students,” said Bryant-Friedrich. “The public speaking and communication skills learned here are invaluable as our graduate students and postdocs prepare for their careers.”

The Graduate School plans to keep the GRS in an in-person format moving forward to offer more networking opportunities for graduate students and postdocs. The additional organization and communication required at live, on-location events are intended to provide graduate students and postdocs with an experience that will benefit them many years into their careers.

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