The World after Tomorrow: ARC 2018

Joel Thiessen with students

Imagine life as a student researcher, leading up to Ambrose Research Conference (ARC). Alongside your many course deadlines, work responsibilities, family and friend obligations, volunteer commitments, and hopefully leisure time, you spend many waking hours thinking about that cloud over your head: your research project. You know, that project that you signed up for because you were curious about some aspect of the world and you thought this would be a great opportunity to dig a bit deeper. And now as that research conference approaches part of you regrets that decision. Your research topic is one of the last things you think about before you fall asleep, and the books you still need to read are top of mind when you wake. There are not enough hours in the day to complete all that lay before you. You need to stand in front of others and present on a topic that you care passionately about (in 15 minutes!), hoping that at least one other person will show up to hear you (or perhaps hoping that no one attends your talk). Alongside these fears and anxieties, your research is equally exhilarating. You are energized by what you are learning. You frequently tell your friends and family about the latest book you read, the newest data that you analyzed, and the interpretations that you are grappling with. Learning is fun, innovative, and complex as you want to know more about a subject that has gripped you.

Welcome to the daily experience of many faculty members! As a faculty member, it is wonderful to see students navigate the highs and lows of being a researcher that only first-hand experience can teach. One of the high points of the academic year at Ambrose is the Ambrose Research Conference – an annual event that aims to spotlight student, faculty, staff, and alumni research activity, through a series of conference presentations and poster exhibits.

ARC 2018 built on the theme, “The World after Tomorrow.” Sound ominous? Provocative? Other-Worldly? All of the above? On April 4, 2018, many of the 40 presenters, nearly 20 posters, and 2 plenary sessions opened our minds to some aspect of this year’s topic. Disciplines represented included Biology, Business, Chemistry, Christian Studies, Education, English, History, Music, Psychology, Science, Sociology, and Theology. Presenters grappled with how their discipline helps us to think carefully and critically about the world after tomorrow.

For our conference organizing team, it is always a delight to see the campus buzz with energy at ARC. Students recently burrowed away to put the finishing touches on their projects surface once again to share their learning. Their family and friends descend upon Ambrose, sometimes from across Canada. Alumni return to hear of the latest research taking place around the Ambrose hallways. Staff and faculty alike utilize the day to both support students and learn from them. And of course, good food and fellowship are a cornerstone of any great conference!

Three Benefits of ARC for Students

  1. Students have the opportunity to encounter the pinnacle of higher learning – a self-directed journey to explore curiosities, unearth what has been discovered already, and advance understanding in areas less explored. For some students this is their first opportunity to design and carry out an original study of their own; to formulate the question, design the method, gather and analyze the data, and present their findings in a public forum. Each phase can be simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. This process of curiosity, discovery, critical thinking, and dissemination is critically important to the student university experience. Research of this kind prepares students for a range of possibilities when they move on from Ambrose, including graduate school, the pulpit, the research lab, the business world, journalism, law, performing arts, and more.
  2. As students present, they also model the scholarship possibilities to their junior peers: “see, if I can do this (and I had my doubts), so can you!” This may sound like a simple outcome, but it is not insignificant. Part of a healthy learning community involves encouraging and equipping others to probe the questions that captivate them. As past students have noted, ARC functions as a catalyst for some to pick up the “research bug,” in part because they see their peers capably doing so at ARC.
  3. Students see their faculty and mentors “in action.” Yes, this occurs in the classroom, but presenting at ARC is different. One of those differences, new to ARC this year, was an “author meets critics” session. Picture this: you devote a couple of years to a project, the result is a book, others read your book, and you are asked to sit at a table beside three others who will now critique your work while others watch. It sounds like a sadistic gladiator-like academic ritual. Truth be told, this exercise is part of what faculty do at conferences. It is important for students to have exposure to rich dialogue, candid critique, and the exchange of ideas. Sure, it might be fun for a student to watch their professors go “toe to toe.” More importantly, students learn what it looks like to vehemently yet respectfully disagree with another, to avoid giving or receiving critique at a personal level, and ultimately, to debate ideas with the goal of sharper and refined thinking on a given topic, and then to go for lunch together afterward.

Sound interesting? Mark your calendar for ARC 2019 – Uncharted: Conversations on the Hinterlands – on March 27, 2019. Come ready to present, learn, debate and then enjoy good food and conversation with others after!

Faculty