Cartoon of people using technology to do research presentations.

Research Day 2020

Pandemic can’t dampen research spirit

One Friday every November for the last 31 years, student researchers have come together on the EVMS campus to display their work. And each year, throngs of people who share their interests join the students to discuss their research findings.

Then came COVID-19.

The pandemic and resulting social-distancing rules made it impossible to hold the traditional face-to-face Research Day event in November 2020 and threatened to cancel the wildly popular celebration.

But students, faculty and staff refused to give up. And thanks to the enthusiasm, creativity and flexibility of everyone involved, the tradition marked its 32nd year in 2020 — this time, virtually.

Last summer, staff in the EVMS Research office began looking for alternatives to the typical in-person event. Working with web experts in EVMS Marketing and Communications, the team came up with a web-based solution that accommodated the live aspects of the four-hour event, as well as prerecorded presentations by each student.

The online event drew a record 132 student-research presenters, along with several hundred observers.

“Research Day 2020 was a huge success,” declares Stephanie McCombs, MBA, Manager of Research Opportunities and Development.


You don’t need to have Bunsen burners and glass flasks with boiling, smoky stuff coming out of them to do good quality research.


Bruce Britton, MD (MD ’90, Family Medicine Residency ’93)

Research Day is an important outlet for students to highlight all types of scholarly activities, says David Mu, PhD, Director of Medical Student Research Opportunities and Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology.

“The 2020 Research Day was unique in that it showcased not only the students’ passions for research, but also the resourcefulness and ingenuity of our students in attaining their passions,” Dr. Mu says.

Others echoed those sentiments.

“Research Day 2020 — our first virtual schoolwide research event — showed that nothing can stop the passion, enthusiasm and commitment of students and faculty to share their research and to strive for excellence,” says Anca Dobrian, PhD, Professor of Physiological Sciences.

Joseph Aaliyah, Medical Master’s Class of 2021, says he was honored to present at Research Day and to observe the work of fellow students. “This event is only one example of how supportive the student and faculty body are here at EVMS,” he says, “and I’m happy to be a part of that.”

Bruce Britton, MD (MD ’90, Family Medicine Residency ’93), Professor of Clinical Family and Community Medicine, mentored two medical students whose presentations were not the traditional lab-based research. As Director of TEACH (Transformative Education Advancing Community Health), a primary-care training project focused on reducing health disparities, Dr. Britton guided the students in their study of student perceptions of the school’s medical curriculum.

“I think their eyes were opened up to the world of research,” Dr. Britton says. “You don’t need to have Bunsen burners and glass flasks with boiling, smoky stuff coming out of them to do good quality research.”

Whether in person or virtual, Research Day itself serves as more than a learning opportunity for EVMS students. It also inspires youth interested in health and medicine.

For instance, at the 2020 event, as in previous years, students from the Medical and Health Specialties Program at Maury High School in Norfolk observed Research Day online.

One student, Celia L., was particularly interested in a study of the effects of sleep fragmentation on the amplification of atherosclerosis.

“This topic is extremely prevalent for students our age and shows the potential health detriments resulting from losing sleep,” Celia wrote.

“As someone who is interested in research as a possible career in the future, I enjoyed hearing about the varying backgrounds of the medical students who presented their studies today.”

Said one of Celia’s classmates: “Not only was the research incredibly well done and well presented, but it allowed me to envision myself doing and presenting research such as this.”