After years of research, months of planning and hours of practice, two PhD students from the U21 network have been awarded prizes for just three minutes’ work. The U21 Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT) saw over 800 entries from PhD candidates around the world, all trying to explain their research and its importance to an audience of non-specialists in three minutes. The 2014 competition resulted in Amy Marquardt from the University of Maryland and Bevan Main from the University of Melbourne being awarded first and second place respectively, with Amy scooping the People’s Choice award as well.
The competition, originally devised by the University of Queensland, invited students from around theUniversitas 21 network to enter local events at their home university, the winners of which went through to the worldwide final. 17 U21 member universities took part this year and the research topics presented ranged from the ancient Demotic language to spinal cord repair to the design of wind turbines.
The winning presentation by Amy Marquardt was entitled “Novel protective coatings for silver alloy cultural heritage objects using atomic layer deposited metal oxide barrier films” and outlined her research into and development of an almost invisible yet highly-protective coating for silver objects in museums and galleries, enhancing the protection and reducing the damage caused by current methods. On hearing the news of her award, Amy, a PhD candidate in materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland, said “Competing in the 3MT was one of the most challenging presentations I have ever given. Conveying my research in 3 minutes was much harder than I expected, but also a lot of fun. I have learned how to explain complex ideas in a non-technical way, an incredibly useful skill when working in an interdisciplinary field. The competition allowed me to explain why I'm excited about my research to a broad audience, hopefully sparking their interest in a topic they never considered. The 3MT gave me an incredible platform to convey my passion for my work.”
The judges, an international pane convened by Associate Professor Caroline Daley of the University of Auckland and current chair of the U21 Deans & Directors of Graduate Studies group, were impressed with Amy’s transparency and succinctness in explaining her research. Phil Baty, Editor at large forTimes Higher Education and member of the panel, commented “The quality of entries was high, and all the shortlisted videos together offered a wonderful snapshot of the rich array of exciting and potentially ground breaking research taking place in universities across the world. So picking a winner was tough, but one did stand out for the clarity of the proposition, and the engaging nature of the delivery.”
The general public clearly agreed, voting Amy’s presentation into first place in the People’s Choice competition, held online in early October. Securing just over a fifth of all the votes cast, Amy was the clear winner, with entrants from Virginia, Edinburgh and Hong Kong vying for second, third and fourth places. As part of her People’s Choice prize, Amy will have the opportunity to work with 99Scholars to have her presentation turned into an animated video - an innovative way to share the presentation online and via social media.
The Edinburgh finalist, Emma Hodcroft, was also very favourably considered by the judging panel, only just beaten to the Highly Commended prize by Bevan Main of the University of Melbourne with his presentation entitled “The impact of type-1 interferon signalling in Parkinson's disease” detailing his work on discovering new targets to slow Parkinson’s disease progression. Bevan, a student of pharmacology and therapeutics in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at Melbourne was very pleased to be given the prize, commenting “This year’s Universitas 21 3MT competition was a fantastic opportunity for me to share the importance of my Parkinson's disease research with an international audience. All of the entries from around the world were of an exceptional standard, and I am honoured to have been recognised for the exciting work we are doing here at the University of Melbourne. It has been a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to all those in the early stages of their research careers.”
Participating universities: Auckland, Birmingham, UBC, PU Chile, Connecticut, UCD, Edinburgh, Fudan. Glasgow, Hong Kong, Lund, Maryland, McGill, Melbourne, UNSW Australia, Nottingham, Queensland, SJTU, Virginia
Judges: Associate Professor Caroline Daley, Dean of Graduate Studies University of Auckland (and U21 DDoGS chair); Mr Phil Baty, Editor at large Times Higher Education; Dr Jani Brouwer, Director of Research and PhD Programs, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; Dr Allan Goodman, CEO Institute of International Education; Dr Patrick Chu, Chairman of 99Scholars and UNSW alumnus.