More than 155 graduate and undergraduate honors students from William & Mary and several regional universities will present their groundbreaking research at the second annual Graduate & Honors Research Symposium (GHRS) in the Sadler Center March 20-22.

Research from 14 different graduate fields of study and 21 undergraduate majors will be represented in a variety of formats, including panel presentations and poster sessions. The three-day event is open to all and free.

The GHRS is co-hosted by the Arts & Sciences Graduate Center and the Charles Center, which administers the departmental honors program, honors fellowships and undergraduate summer research grants.

The symposium kicks off at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 20, in the Commonwealth Auditorium with the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, in which graduate students will present their research in three-minute talks intended for a general audience.

Director of the Arts & Sciences Graduate Center Sarah Glosson described the 3MT as a powerful way to open this year’s symposium. 

“Presenting a 3MT talk requires months of preparation and the rare ability to connect highly specialized research to a general audience in clear, creative and compelling ways,” said Glosson. “In three minutes, each speaker uniquely conveys the passionate commitment to research that is so prevalent at William & Mary.”

A person stands by a row of machinery
Ezekiel Wertz, Ph.D. candidate in physics, conducts research that is part of the Super BigBite Spectrometer program at Jefferson Lab in Newport News, Virginia. (Courtesy photo)

Ezekiel Wertz, a Ph.D. candidate in physics, helped organize the symposium. To Wertz, the public-facing dimension of the entire GHRS program challenges presenters “to step above the weeds and describe the research in a manner that is interdisciplinary and nontechnical.”

“I think the ultimate goal of GHRS is to provide a venue that pushes people a little bit out of their own research comfort bubbles and broaden their horizons as a scholar and as a person,” Wertz said.

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 21, students will engage in one-hour, concurrent panel sessions that highlight the rich landscape of graduate and undergraduate research underway across Arts & Sciences.

Glosson said that the GHRS has evolved over the years into a campus-wide event featuring research from nearly all corners of the university and beyond.

“Our graduate students are doing deeply relevant research. Sometimes this research is conducted in teams alongside faculty and undergraduates, and sometimes it’s a more solitary endeavor; either way, they bring fresh questions, ideas and methods to our scholarly community and into their work as instructors in labs and classrooms,” Glosson said. “The symposium is a chance for the disciplines to come together, hear about other research, make connections with each other and share ideas and new directions.”

A person speaks at a podium while a screen nearby shows a singer
Jay Jolles, Ph.D. candidate in American studies and chair of the Graduate & Honors Research Symposium organizing committee, researches music as a tool for surveillance. (Photo by Ethan Gill)

Jay Jolles, a doctoral student in American studies and chair of the GHRS organizing committee, said that the most rewarding part of the process has been working with colleagues across nearly all graduate programs and undergraduate units.

“Graduate school is an extremely singular endeavor, and it becomes increasingly more so as you progress into the latter stages of the degree. As a result, I feel a lot of gratitude for being able to engage meaningfully with colleagues in a way that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to do,” Jolles said. “I am immensely grateful for how serving as chair of this committee is a tremendous professional development opportunity.”

Jolles will also be presenting his work on music as a tool for surveillance at the symposium.

“The development of music streaming service Spotify, along with the proliferation of the algorithms that power it, has worked to leverage music as a tool that reveals how our increasingly networked society erodes the perceived boundaries between person and platform, private and public, music and mere data. This research is part of my dissertation project which investigates the changing aesthetic and technological practices that animate sounding and listening cultures in contemporary America,” Jolles said.

Among the 85 undergraduate honors presenters are Calvin Sloan ’24 and Kami Vigilant ’24. Both hope that their presentations will shed light on underrepresented or surprising parts of their work.

Sloan, an anthropology major, focuses on underground music in the Richmond, Virginia, area from an ethnographic perspective, specifically the practice of “moshing,” or a more intense and physical style of dance, often performed toward the front of a stage in a mosh pit.

Calvin Sloan
Anthropology major Calvin Sloan ’24 researches underground music from an ethnographic perspective. (Courtesy photo)

“I want to delve into explaining what it’s about, the symbolic meanings behind it and why it’s appealing to people. I’m also really interested in grounding the discussion on genre. Underground music and punk especially has a lot of discourse around genres as it relates back to marketing,” Sloan said.

Sloan himself has even begun performing as a drummer at concerts throughout the duration of his research. He hopes that symposium attendees will use his work to understand the nuances and subcultures of the underground music scene.

“I understand that underground music isn’t for everybody. I hope that people can understand it in the sense of it being a subculture that has its own customs and ideology, and I want people to see the parallels between that and something they might be more familiar with,” Sloan said. “It’s just a different way of consuming art and interacting with others.”

Kami Vigilant
Honors student Kami Vigilant ’24, a government and anthropology double major, researches how film and media portray cults. (Courtesy photo)

Vigilant, a government and anthropology double major from Fredericksburg, Virginia, examines how film and media portray cults. She hopes to use this work to create a legal framework that includes guidance on how to observe, regulate and rehabilitate current and previous cult members.  Cult members “tend to be people who have become fed up with society or something has bothered them, and they’ve decided that their expertise is better suited somewhere else,” she said.

Vigilant also believes her research could protect people from cult influence. She hopes that attendees will listen to her work and think more critically about this complex topic.

Jolles sees the GHRS as a great opportunity for the campus community to learn more about connections that exist between the wide range of graduate and honors research underway at W&M.

“Especially for undergraduates who might be interested in pursuing graduate study, the GHRS is an excellent showcase for seeing what potential avenues are available to junior and emerging scholars and the type of work that is gaining traction in the academy these days,” Jolles said.

A person stands next to a podium and a screen in front of a crowd
Tara Vasanth ’23 presented her honors research at the inaugural Graduate & Honors Research Symposium in William & Mary’s Sadler Center in March 2023. (Photo by Charles Center staff)

On Friday, March 22, the symposium will feature a series of research talks, a competitive honors “Thesis in Three” speech competition and several digital poster sessions. Awards will be presented during a culminating networking reception and traditional poster session featuring graduate and honors projects 3-5 p.m. in the Chesapeake room.

Interested in attending this year’s GHRS? Learn more here.