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Soup + Science = perfect sense

by Archives January 17, 2007

What better way to attract a bunch of hard-working students than by offering them dinner? In a unique program designed to attract young would-be scientists to the field, McGill’s Faculty of Science combined dinner and discussion in a week-long event called ‘Soup and Science’.

Not only did the Undergraduate Research office serve food last week, they also dished up around 30 presentations, each given by a teacher in the science faculty. In the words of the organizers: You come for the soup, but you stay for the science.

Last week, the Redpath Museum was host to the third edition of the bi-annual event, which already, the administrators are seeing as a winning concept.

It is structured so that students can understand why the school’s researchers are interested in what they’re doing and what are the major issues in their field, explained the University’s Dean of Science Martin Grant. “And you get some sense of what people work out and a sense of what exciting research is being done at McGill,” added Grant.

How does it work? Each day, Grant welcomed around 80 to 100 students. Then, five to six teachers talked about their research in successive three-minute presentations, using visual aids such as slide shows and movie clips. The topics presented Jan. 8 were varied, including field research on amphibians, laboratory experiments in water-based chemistry and promising studies on memory consolidation.

Students and teachers then conversed over soup, sandwiches and beverages, talking about current research and the opportunities available. Teachers and students were able to engage in personal discussion because the food was distributed in the informal setting of the lobby, which allowed for more interaction than a conference room setting.

The ‘Soup and Science’ program goal is to illustrate how undergraduates can participate in the research conducted at the university. It also gives new teachers a chance to get exposure and be recognized by the students and their colleagues.

“It’s really interesting. to see all the new professors who have been hired in the last half dozen years or so. Across the university, a third of the professors have been hired in the last seven years. In the faculty of science, it’s half the professors,” said Grant.

The high attendance at ‘Soup and Science’ is a testament to its success. Students are not required to participate. Despite the fact that dinner is not available before the end of the presentations, the Redpath conference room was filled before the first researcher stood to speak.

Victor Chisholm, undergraduate research officer and an event coordinator, hinted that the concept could be adopted by other departments. “[The event] is so popular that we’ve introduced it to some of our other administrative meetings in the faculty,” he said.

Chisholm said he couldn’t disclose how much the Faculty invests in the event, but it appears to be a worthwhile investment.

And all that with a complimentary sandwich.

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