U21 Undergraduate Research Conference

The U21 Undergraduate Research Conference is open to students from a diverse range of academic disciplines and typically includes a range of seminars and student presentations interspersed with social activities and tours to promote networking and stimulate discussion. For our students, it is an excellent opportunity to network with and present to their peers from other globally reknowned research intensive universities.

The University of Birmingham has a number of places and associated bursaries to support students' travel and accommodation costs every year. Phyo attended the U21 Undergraduate Research Conference at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in the summer of 2014, and share some of her experiences below:


My name is Phyo Htet Khaing and I am currently a third year medical student at the University of Birmingham. This year, I was fortunate enough to be nominated by the university to showcase my research at the Universitas 21 Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) in Shanghai.

I was selected to represent the University of Birmingham in the poster category, and my chosen topic was “Is there a relationship between Ischemic Heart Disease and whole fat milk consumption?”. My research was divided into two parts: one of which was a literature review and the other being my own research at a local GP surgery. 


Before my arrival, myself and my other colleagues from the University of Birmingham exchanged contact details so that we were able to meet up in Shanghai. As I wanted to go sightseeing, I travelled 2 days ahead of the conference. Even though we were impressed by the easy-and-convenient Shanghai metro, we walked the whole day. However, we were too distracted by all the delicious food, cute souvenir shops and gigantic skyscrapers to notice our tired feet. I loved how everything was new to us. It was also fantastic to practise the art of ‘haggling’ while navigating our way around the beautiful Yuyuan gardens. 

The Conference

The conference commenced on the 7th of July in the afternoon with an icebreaking activity at the Xuhui campus. This included a variety of games and teamwork activities, which enabled us to get comfortable with each other. The second day was more official and it consisted of oral presentations. As the theme was ‘Food Safety’, a lot of other students had a Science background related to food. Being the only medical student, it was an eye-opening experience for me as I learnt about topics such as international trade laws regarding food, laboratory grown meat and the effects of pesticides. 

In the evening, the university kindly arranged to take us to the Shanghai theatre to watch an amazing acrobatics show. This was a brilliant opportunity for students to bond and discuss their research. We also had similar opportunities to make friends on free evenings, which allowed us to travel together in groups to have dinner.

The next two days included poster presentations during breaks and lunch. I was stationed by my poster throughout these times and it was an absolute delight to have a crowd of interested students and staff asking questions about my research and also receiving ideas and feedback from them. This boosted my confidence in many aspects. For instance, my presentation skills have certainly improved and it gave me a lot of practice in avoiding medical jargon.

On the 10th of July, after a short round of oral presentations, there was an award ceremony in the afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised at the end when my name was announced for the best poster prize, and I felt very happy to win such an award whilst representing the University of Birmingham at an international level.

The next day consisted of an excursion to the beautiful city of Hangzhou, which is a few hours away from Shanghai by bus. Hangzhou is renowned for its scenic lakes, and we were fortunate enough to get a free boat ride on the famous West lake. Despite the intense heat, the scenery was breathtaking and it was interesting to see the pagodas as well. Later in the evening, I headed off to Pudong airport to catch the flight back home.


I loved every second of my adventure. As I reflect back on my experience, I have undoubtedly become more mature, independent and confident in my own abilities. Even though it seemed a bit scary at first, I managed to make a lot of lifelong friends and it feels incredible to have experienced the modern Chinese culture. I am forever grateful to the University of Birmingham for awarding me with such an opportunity like this.