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Grad students face off at Concordia’s 10th annual Three Minute Thesis Competition

Top prizes go to presentations on disease evolution and dry eye syndrome
May 4, 2021
On the left: a graphic of research. On the right: A young man with dark hair and a beard and glasses.
Mudabir Abdullah: “Participation in the 3MT competition allowed me to overcome my public speaking anxiety.”

Thirteen Concordia graduate students competed in the university’s 10th annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition on April 23. Five of the finalists were awarded monetary prizes for their notable presentations.

The competition challenges graduate students to clearly communicate their research to a non-specialist audience in under three minutes. Participants must distill their academic jargon into compelling, easy-to-understand stories without diluting or omitting any major points, and can use only one static PowerPoint slide as a visual aid.

The inaugural edition of the 3MT competition was held at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008. Since then, over 900 universities in 85 countries have participated.

Doctoral candidate Marie Lecuyer will represent Concordia at the French-language version of the competition, Ma thèse en 180 secondes (MT180), hosted by Acfas in May. Her research focuses on how those involved in the funeral industry, as well as architects and designers, can remedy the saturation of cemeteries in a context of heavy urbanization, particularly in Hong Kong.

“Preparing for this competition allowed me to understand my project from the perspective of other researchers from various backgrounds,” Lecuyer says.

In addition to Lecuyer, six master’s students and six PhD students presented their research at Concordia’s 3MT competition this year. They were selected as finalists out of the 64 students who received advice from GradProSkills coaches leading up to the event.

‘English is not my first language, but I still won the competition!’

The judges evaluated the contestants based on criteria such as comprehension, content, engagement and communication. Mudabir Abdullah earned first place in the doctoral section of the competition. As a student in the Department of Biology, Abdullah is conducting research that involves swapping human pathways and processes and humanizing the proteasome core in baker’s yeast to study the evolution of diseases.

“Participation in the 3MT competition helped my presentation skills immensely and allowed me to overcome my public speaking anxiety,” Abdullah says. “English is not my first language, but still I won the competition!”

The doctoral section’s People’s Choice Award went to Jessica Murphy, who was also recognized as Abdullah’s runner-up. Her research investigates how the age of obesity onset influences the way fat biology responds to a lifestyle weight-loss protocol.

“Throughout the 3MT process, my script underwent a major overhaul thanks to the very constructive feedback from the coaches and my fellow competitors,” Murphy says. “Translating research to a general audience isn’t easy, but the 3MT coaching sessions help you shift your mindset to make it happen.”

‘I now understand what I want my research to capture’

In the master’s section, Mahshid Keramatnejad won first place, coming in just ahead of runner-up Zahra Motaghi Moghadam. Keramatnejad studies surface chemistry, with research centred on creating a simplified model membrane to better understand the structure of the oil tear layer. That’s the one found on the surface of our eyes that aids in the blinking function.

“We hope to shed light on the impact of air pollutants on the oil tear layer as one of the possible causes of dry eye syndrome in urban environments,” Keramatnejad explains.

Graduate student Carla Samuel, who presented her research on improving online learning in higher education through the implementation of chatbots, was selected for the master’s-level People’s Choice Award.

“3MT is a great experience for someone who has not started their thesis,” Samuel says. “In the beginning, your topic can be so big, and this competition allowed me to narrow down my research question. I now understand what I want my research to capture.”

The top prizewinners receive $750 each, runners-up take home $150 each and people’s choice recipients earn $100 each.

Learn more about Concordia’s 
GradProSkills and School of Graduate Studies.



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