Undergraduate Academic Affairs

May 12, 2020

The 23rd Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium moves online

Undergraduate Academic Affairs

Collage image to promote 2020 Undergraduate Research SymposiumOn Friday, May 15, 2020, more than 850 undergraduates will participate in the 23rd Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, which will be held online. When held in person, the UW’s Undergraduate Research Symposium is one of the largest in the country. This year’s online event is likely to follow suit. Student presenters represent all three University of Washington campuses as well as some community colleges, regional colleges and universities.


Registration is required to attend this year’s virtual Symposium. To register, visit symposium.uw.edu. Attending the event is always free.

Circle avatar for research championShow students your support by updating your social media profile picture with a Symposium avatar, available for researchers, mentors, parents and champions of undergrad research.

Planning for the traditional event, which completely takes over Mary Gates Hall and expands into Odegaard Undergraduate Library, was well underway by the Undergraduate Research Program. Then the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, putting a halt to in-person events. More than 1,200 students had already applied to present their research, and staff were reading their applications and abstracts.

Rather than simply cancel the event outright, Undergraduate Research Program staff surveyed students to learn if they would want to present their research in a virtual format. The demands and new realities of students’ research projects varied — some projects, for example, are on hold and cannot be moved forward remotely and others are able to continue remotely — yet students’ interest in presenting was overwhelmingly positive.

Photo of Mary Gates Hall Commons during the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

The Undergraduate Research Symposium typically happens in Mary Gates Hall and will be online this year.

“I believe it is more important now than ever to have a feeling of pride in our community,” says Hank Cheng, UW senior majoring in biology. “I can’t think of something better than bringing together hundreds of scholars to share their accomplishments.” 

Organizers committed themselves to maintaining a professional Symposium experience for student presenters and to creating learning opportunities along the way, just as they have done for past symposia. Students were given feedback on their abstracts, offered workshop opportunities to learn how to put together a presentation or poster, and encouraged to participate in practice sessions to test-drive their presentation.

“I’m just so impressed and excited by the way these students rose to this challenge,” says Jennifer Harris, director of the Undergraduate Research Program. “Our undergraduate researchers, working under the guidance of world-class mentors, demonstrate resilience, creativity and truly engaged learning.” 

Harris also noted that one of the benefits of being online this year is that students’ friends and family from around the region, country and world will be able to tune in to their presentation. 

As in years past, the Undergraduate Research Symposium showcases the diversity of undergraduate research, which spans politics to pediatrics, astrobiology to oceanography, history to computer science, engineering to education and more, showing that undergraduate creativity and scholarship truly is boundless.

Overview of the format and registration

The Symposium begins at 9 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time, and will run to about 4:30 p.m. UW President Cauce, Provost Mark Richards and UAA Vice Provost and Dean Ed Taylor have each recorded videos to welcome students and guests; congratulate undergraduates on their accomplishments; share who the recipients of the Research Mentor Awards are; and recognize the invaluable role mentors play in encouraging undergraduates to transform their education through research.

Students will present their research in one of these formats, all followed by a question and answer period:

  • 3-minute poster presentation or lightning talk, 
  • 10-minute oral presentation,
  • 5-minute visual arts and design presentation, or
  • 15-minute performance presentation.

Registered guests will be able to access students’ abstracts and presentation times, watch presentations by students they specifically want to see, and explore and attend multiple sessions. 

All presentations will be pre-recorded and played in real time, according to the event schedule; they will not be available for later viewing. Registration is required to attend this free event. 

To view the sessions, register for the Symposium and make sure to set up a Zoom account if you do not already have one. Information about how to access the sessions and a detailed Symposium conference schedule will be emailed to registered attendees the week of Symposium.  

Support undergraduate researchers

There are many ways to support undergraduates presenting their research.

Through undergraduate research, students contribute to groundbreaking work and gain the experience necessary to one day lead innovative research themselves. UW undergraduates are getting involved in research in increasing numbers — more than 9,000 students participated in research in 2017–18. More than 700 faculty, post-doc, research staff and graduate student mentors supported this year’s Symposium presenters through their research, helping students develop subject area knowledge, transferable skills and an entrepreneurial perspective that will prepare them for future employment, education and civic engagement.

Join the undergraduate research ecosystem by supporting the Symposium in these ways:

Attend the Symposium and ask questions. Register here and tell your friends.

Show your support on social. Invite your friends and family ahead of time, and then post and tweet about your experiences using #UWsymp. Incorporate a new avatar and images from the Symposium social media toolkit.

Make a gift. Because of the generosity of donors, our students can continue their research and stay on track in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Support undergrad research