June 20, 2019

The people have spoken: UCalgary grad student shines in Canadian 3MT

Laura Rios Carreno wins People’s Choice award in national communications competition
Chemical and petroleum engineering grad student Laura Rios Carreno examines asphalt samples.

Chemical and petroleum engineering grad student Laura Rios Carreno examines asphalt samples.

Dan Ferguson, Faculty of Graduate Studies

When it comes to making her ideas clear, Laura Rios Carreno knows where the rubber meets the road. A master’s student in chemical and petroleum engineering, Rios recently won the People’s Choice award in the Canadian national 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) competition.

It’s not the first time the people have shown their support to Rios. Following her first place finish in the 2019 UCalgary 3MT, she won People’s Choice while representing the University of Calgary at the western regional competition in Prince George, B.C. in April.

Rios’s talk on Modification of Asphalt with Reactive Polymers for Quality Enhancement of Pavement addresses the costly maintenance of Canadian roadways. Under the extreme conditions of Canadian seasons, pavement tends to crack in the winter cold and permanently deform in the summer heat. Rios’s research with supervisor Dr. Martin Jasso, PhD, attempts to improve pavement performance across seasons by introducing an epoxy modifier to asphalt during mixing. The resulting pavement should maintain stiffness at high temperatures and reduce cracking at low temperatures.

The national competition is judged using videos recorded at the regional competitions across Canada. People’s Choice voting takes place online via the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) website.

Originally from Barrancabermeja, Colombia, Rios has become something of a local celebrity in her hometown. “I was interviewed on a local radio station following my People’s Choice win at regionals,” says Rios. “My family was very excited for me. They all watched online, even though they don’t all speak English.”

Rios worried that speaking English as a second language would work against her in the 3MT competition. “I spent a lot of time practising pronunciation. I was concerned about forgetting a word, in case I couldn’t improvise and find a synonym on the spot,” says Rios. “The workshops and feedback sessions provided by My GradSkills helped a lot.

“At first, I was using more technical language. Word choice can be more complicated for someone who speaks English as a second language, because you don’t always know which words are specialized, and which are more commonplace. The workshops and feedback sessions provide really useful insight from a diversity of perspectives,” she says.

Rios is the fourth University of Calgary graduate student to compete in the national competition since it was first held in 2014. Elizabeth Watt won in 2015, along with Chidera Nwaroh in 2018. Rios is the first University of Calgary student to win the People’s Choice category.

“The 3MT provides graduate students with excellent communication skills training and experience,” says Robin Yates, interim vice-provost and dean, graduate studies. “The event strengthens connections with the community, and helps graduate students make their research less opaque for a wide audience. We are very excited for Laura, and very proud to have her represent the University of Calgary.

"As with all of our 3MT participants, Laura worked hard on her presentation. We support our students as much as possible, and the training and feedback provided by My GradSkills is key to how we deliver that support.”

My GradSkills, an initiative of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, connects graduate students with communications training and outreach opportunities. In addition to running the 3MT competition, My GradSkills provides a suite of workshops and feedback sessions to help participants craft and refine compelling 3MT presentations. The skills and techniques taught in these workshops are widely transferable.

“We see a growing need for graduate students to have broad communication skills,” says My GradSkills manager Dr. Tara Christie, PhD.

“Our graduate programs help students gain essential skills in writing, speaking and presenting to academic audiences. Graduate students go on to an increasingly wide range of career outcomes, and it’s important that they can translate their research for non-specialists,” says Christie. “Our 3MT presenters put immense time and energy into their talks. In doing so, they are developing excellent communication skills that will serve them in both their studies and their careers.”

Contact My GradSkills to learn more about communications training and opportunities for graduate students.