When thinking of graduate student research, “art” is rarely the first word that comes to mind, but that hasn’t stopped the faculty of graduate studies and research’s (FGSR) Images of Research (IOR) competition.
The annual competition, open to any current U of A graduate student, invites contestants to “capture, share, and present the essence of the[ir] research in one image,” according to U of A humanities, social sciences, and law librarian Doris Wagner. This year, IOR has released a colouring book containing a selection of the images that have been submitted since IOR began in 2016.
The images for the book, which can be downloaded for free from the U of A’s Education and Research Archive (ERA), were selected to highlight the diversity of disciplines and research, according to Charity Slobod, the Community Connect program lead for FGSR. Past submissions to the contest have included everything from mathematical patterns to characters from the Pixar movie Cars, both of which are included in the colouring book.
“It’s about what all students are doing across campus,” Slobod elaborated.
The IOR competition that brought about the colouring book was originally started by Wagner when she was a library resident, taking inspiration from similar programs at other universities, and the program has since grown with support from FGSR.
“It’s to foster connection, and to show the research in a different way,” Wagner said of the competition.
Each year, the submitted images are judged on originality, aesthetic appeal, relationship to the entrant’s research, and clarity of a 1200-word written description which entrants must include alongside their image.
Students who submit have an opportunity to win one of four cash prizes, and the competition will also count toward graduate students’ professional development credit. The images are judged by an interdisciplinary panel of five to seven individuals with a library and Graduate Students’ Association representative.
In past years, the competition culminated in an in-person exhibition, held at one of the U of A libraries. In 2020, however, the COVID-19 lockdown threw these plans into disarray.
“Just a few weeks before [the exhibition], COVID-19 hit,” Wagner said. “So, we moved it very quickly online, and we did a virtual exhibition.”
Slobod also emphasized the quick transition online.
“It was really frustrating because the stars were aligning to make this a really big public exhibit… we were going to feature Images of Research over in Edmonton Towers, with tons of foot traffic and stuff like that, and then it was going to coincide with the launch of the physical coloring book right here.”
Through a partnership with the Edmonton Public Library, IOR had also planned to distribute free copies of the colouring book to the public alongside campus distribution, in an effort to showcase research beyond the U of A.
In some ways, going online has helped with that aspect: Wagner noted that this year, the exhibition will be available all year, rather than for a single month, and more easily accessible to the public.
For the 2021 competition, both Wagner and Slobod expressed curiosity regarding how the ongoing pandemic and lockdown might influence entries.
“Maybe during COVID-19 times, they’re going to talk about how maybe they’re not so attached to their research, but more about their research experience,” said Slobod.
For example, Slobod mentioned a previous submission — a pile of books sprawled across the student’s floor — that connected as much to the student’s personal experience as to their research topic.
Wagner encourages any graduate students who might be interested to give the competition a try at some point in their degree program.
“I’m always so impressed by everything our students do,” Wagner said. “It’s just a neat creative process.”
Winners and semifinalists from each year of the competition can be found under the IOR competition collection on the U of A’s ERA.