“This was my second time attending Smarti Gras, and I was the only student from the department of visual studies,” says Jennifer Liu, a recent graduate from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), and the first-place winner of the 2021 annual Smarti Gras event that celebrates undergraduate research.
In 2016, the Office of the Vice-Principal established Smarti Gras under the leadership of biology professor and acting vice-dean Bryan Stewart, who was UTM’s Vice-Principal, Research at the time.
Smarti Gras 2021 was held through Gather Town, a platform where multiple undergraduate students were able to share their posters at once. Presenters made virtual avatars and visited various virtual research poster rooms. This year, a total of 63 posters were created and 170 participants attended the event.
“It was a very valuable experience for me as a presenter and as an attendee,” adds Liu. “This year they revamped it to be more interactive.”
Liu’s research project, titled “A Growing Cast of Foundry Works: Uncovering More of Bernini’s Bronzes and His Workforce,” reimagined Italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s bronze statue work and the people that worked with him to create the pieces. Liu’s project was supervised by renaissance and baroque art and architecture professor Evonne Levy.
Liu connected with the Art Gallery of Ontario and various museums in the U.S. and Italy: “Working within this diverse reach team opened my eyes to the different fields of art history, and the way different institutions approach research,” she explains. “Art deserves a place in research.”
After reaching out to her peers and asking Professor Levy about research opportunities, Liu became familiar with Smarti Gras. One of her main struggles was gaining confidence in public speaking when presenting her poster at Smarti Gras.
“Being confident in your research, having a good grasp on content, and [showing] why your research is important” will help you to present your research at events like Smarti Gras, emphasizes Liu.
Additional resources are available to undergraduate students preparing to present their research. This year, the Office of the Vice-Principal and Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre coordinated two workshop sessions—How to Make a Better Poster and How to Talk About Your Poster—for Smarti Gras 2021 participants.
“The poster presentation gives you a chance to be creative, whereas you might not always be able to do that in your studies,” states Liu.
According to the Office of the Vice-Principal, Smarti Gras allows undergraduate students to present their work to an engaged audience. The experience also includes explaining their research projects, data collection, methodology, why the work is important, and “all the intricacies associated with their particular program of research.”
Carla Demarco, the research communications and grants manager at the Office of the Vice-Principal, states that Smarti Gras is an “opportunity to find out what kinds of interesting undertakings UTM undergraduate students are up to.”
“Most people, myself included, who attend Smarti Gras each year are consistently impressed by these young scholars and their creativity, knowledge, dedication, and enthusiasm,” shares Demarco. “The benefit of Smarti Gras is also for the audience: it is an opportunity to celebrate undergraduate students.”
Rong Wu, the internal competition and events coordinator for the Office of the Vice-Principal, coordinates all the logistics for Smarti Gras. She does an amazing job each year putting the program and event together. With so many posters and oral presentations, judges, and prizes, organizing an event of this size is a great achievement.
Liu will pursue a Master of Arts in Art History at McGill, where she hopes to be inspired and continue her academic journey with the possibility of completing a PhD.
“One thing that students don’t realize is, even though you have just graduated, there is still an opportunity to be engaged with the UTM community,” expresses Liu. “I am a big advocate for students contacting their professors, and just being able to have someone on your side.”
Students are encouraged to check out the Office of the Vice-Principal website for updates and detailed information on next year’s Smarti Gras.