March 28, 2019

What story can you tell in three minutes?

Grad students to share their research in Three Minute Thesis finals April 3
The 2019 UCalgary 3MT finalists, from left: Emily Macphail, Benjamin Blyth, Nisha Vashi, Laura Crack, Carly Pontifex, Darren Mazzei, Laura Rios-Carreno, Annie Hoang, Rachel Kratofil, Lucy Poley. Photo by Dan Ferguson, Faculty of Graduate Studies
The 2019 UCalgary 3MT finalists, from left: Emily Macphail, Benjamin Blyth, Nisha Vashi, Laura Crack

Shabab Saad knows what goes into a successful three minute thesis (3MT) talk.

A finalist from last year’s University of Calgary 3MT, Saad returned as a heat judge in the 2019 competition. Even with his experience, deciding who would go on to finals was not easy.

It’s a testament to the quality of the 2019 3MT talks. Graduate students from all of the University of Calgary’s thesis-based programs are welcome to compete. Following a record number of registrations, 75 graduate students from more than 30 programs participated in five heats, making the 2019 3MT the most competitive to date. Participants have three minutes and a single slide to explain their research for a lay audience.

Communication skills

Saad, a master’s student in chemical and petroleum engineering, is a fan of the competition. “The 3MT program has a lot to offer in terms of how to think critically and also how to shape your talk no matter what the subject is,” says Saad. “For graduate students, it’s important to develop good speaking skills because of the number of presentations that we deliver to different groups of people for different purposes. I learned how to convey my research to non-experts so that they can relate the impact of my work to their own lives.”

Returning as a heat judge gave him a new perspective on the competition: “Being a judge helped me understand how the story is on the other side. It was extremely fun and it was an honour to judge several great talks. I got to learn a lot about the diverse research taking place in our institution.”

Cindy Kalenga took third place in the 2018 UCalgary 3MT. The master’s student in medical science finds the benefits of participating in the 3MT carry on long after the competition ends. “The 3MT trains grad students to speak 'normal.' Being able to fluently switch from heavy jargon to lay conversation is a skill required of every scientist who practices in the 21st century,” says Kalenga. “It makes me think of my research as 'for the people.' Most grants are publicly funded, and we have a responsibility to inform the community of its impact.”

Advice for finalists

Kalenga has words of wisdom for this year’s finalists: “I got so caught up in doing well for the competition that I forgot that my primary purpose for being there was to have fun. I recommend that every student savours each minute of being on stage because you'll miss it.”

This year marks the seventh annual UCalgary 3MT. The graduate research communication competition takes place at hundreds of universities around the world, include several across Canada. The winner of the UCalgary 3MT will participate in the Canadian Western Regionals on April 17 at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Following regional competitions, a national competition will select a new Canadian champion to follow in the footsteps of Chidera Nwaroh, the University of Calgary graduate student who won the title in 2018. The 2019 UCalgary 3MT finals take place April 3 at 5 p.m., and the event is open to all. The competition will be held in the Plains Midstream Theatre, Engineering Block C (ENC 70).

2019 UCalgary 3MT finalists (listed in order of appearance above, from left)

  • Emily Macphail, Medical Science. Supervisors: Dr. Paul Arnold, MD, PhD, and Dr. Raylene Reimer, PhD. A Gut Feeling? The Role of Diet and Microbiota in Youth with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Benjamin Blyth, English. Supervisor: Dr. Susan Bennett, PhD. Shakespeare's Shoreditch Nineteen: Site-Specificity and Collective Creation in Shakespeare's Early Works
  • Nisha Vashi, Psychology. Supervisor: Dr. Suzanne Curtin, PhD. Walk it Like I Talk it: Language and Motor Development in Children with Disabilities
  • Laura Crack, Kinesiology. Supervisor: Dr. Tish Doyle-Baker, PhD. CHESS: Change in Hormones with Exposure to Student Stress
  • Carly Pontifex, Neuroscience. Supervisor: Dr. Gerald Pfeffer, MD, PhD. Eating Yourself: Autophagy in Neuromuscular Disease
  • Darren Mazzei, Medical Science. Supervisor: Dr. Deborah Marshall, MD. Economics, Arthritis and Making Tough Choices in Health Care
  • Laura Rios-Carreno, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Supervisor: Dr. Martin Jasso, PhD. Modification of Asphalt with Reactive Polymers for Quality Enhancement of the Pavement
  • Annie Hoang, Chemistry. Supervisor: Dr. Viola Birss, PhD. Lower Cost Nanoparticles for Eco-Friendly Vehicles
  • Rachel Kratofil, Immunology. Supervisor: Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD. Visualizing the Immune System in the Heat of Battle with Staphylococcus aureus
  • Lucy Poley, Geography. Supervisor: Dr. Greg McDermid, PhD. Measuring the Biomass of Plains Bison Forage Vegetation from a Drone