at ABRCMS 2020
4 min readNov 19, 2020

Author: Anita Bröllochs

The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) is one of the largest communities of underrepresented minorities in STEM. Students attend the conference to present their research, enhance professional development skills, explorate graduate schools, and network with some of the top companies in science and technology.

This year, the team participated in ABRCMS 2020, which took place virtually from November 9–13. Here are some highlights from the week:

Virtual Experience

The ABRCMS virtual platform allowed attendees to navigate through the agenda, presentations, poster sessions, and virtual exhibitor hall to connect attendees.

All sessions were accessible and included a sign language interpreter.

Recordings were made available immediately afterwards, a must have for virtual conferences these days.

The conference offered great networking opportunities, despite the digital landscape.

Session Highlights

There was a tremendous amount of great content throughout the program. So much so, that tickets are still being sold after the event so attendees could access the recordings until December 31, 2020!

The conference started off with a very eye opening keynote by Maria Hinojosa who wrote Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love & Hate in a Torn America. Maria Hinojasa has focused on reporting stories that get ignored by the mainstream media over the last thirty years. In her keynote presentation, she shared very personal stories that she experienced growing up in Chicago after her family moved to the United States from Mexico for her fathers new job as a scientist.

One of the sessions that also stood out was “How we Learn… How we Don’t” with Robert Duke, Ph.D., at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Duke highlighted that just because we learn for class or exams, there are ways of learning that are beneficial and ways that can be downright useless! For example, the graph above shows how cramming for an exam can produce high test results, but retention is diminished shortly afterwards. But why is this important?

A series of students were interviewed after graduation from their degree program at top universities. When the students were asked to complete tasks with a moderate to low level of complexity, most couldn’t come up with the answer.

Here are some of the tasks:

Lighting a lightbulb with a battery and a wire — an example from Minds of our Own, Annenberg Learner where graduate students from MIT and Harvard are asked if they could light a lightbulb with a battery and a wire. Most of the students are confident that they are able to complete that task. However, when they are handed a lightbulb, a battery, and a wire, they are not able to light the lightbulb.
Weighing scale task — There are nine closed cubes. One of the cubes contains a $100 bill and 8 of them contain a paper in the shape of a $100 bill. The only thing we know is that the $100 bill is slightly lighter than the paper but the difference is not detectable by holding the cubes with your hands. You have a weighing scale as a tool to help and you may arrange the blocks on the scale in any ways that you like, but you may use the scale only twice. — Can you figure out which cube contains the $100 bill?

The session concluded that even though there were highly intelligent graduates being asked to perform these tasks, their method of learning and applying critical thinking differs greatly when put into practice.

Another notable session took place on Wednesday called, “You are NOT your Disability” with Stephen Klusza, Ph.D., of Clayton State University.

This session focused on bringing awareness to creating a supportive environment for those with a disability within STEM. Dr. Klusza, who suffered from partial hearing loss in his early years, lost his hearing completely by the time he arrived in graduate school. Now, as a developmental geneticist, Professor, and mentor at Clayton State University, he is an advocate for accessibility in education, open science, and disability rights.

The presentation starts off defining the spectrum of disability identity as it is a complex and sensitive issue. He continues the presentation with examples of Reality, Equality, Equity, and Liberation.

He stresses that what we need to strive for, at the very least, is Equity and how accommodations given to students with disabilities should be a requirement and it should be built into the education system.

If you would like to learn more about empowering students and faculty as it relates to accessibility in STEM, check out episode 22 of the Minor Tweak, Major Impact podcast with Kali Mahrer and Dr. Kaelyn Sumigray from Yale University.

A Step Forward

The ABRCMS conference wrapped up with great networking opportunities and follow ups to continue these important conversations. looks forward to being involved with ABRCMS in the future, and we thank the ABRCMS team for organizing a wonderful event. You can learn more about ABRCMS at



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