Aug. 24, 2020

Biomedical engineering grad student takes UCalgary Three Minute Thesis title

Master's student Sophia Shah will represent UCalgary at regional competition in September

Research can often be baffling because of how specialized and specific it is, but graduate student presenters in the 2020 UCalgary Three Minute Thesis (3MT) make their research accessible to the community by demystifying it. The 3MT, an internationally recognized communications competition, challenges graduate students to deliver a compelling presentation on their thesis research for a general audience using a single, static slide in only three minutes.

The 2020 UCalgary 3MT was revised to be online due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and included new rules, virtual one-on-one feedback sessions, virtual workshops, and a D2L site with numerous resources to help students prepare for the competition. Instead of presenting to a live audience, this year's graduate students recorded their talks, using a skill not needed in previous competitions.

Twenty-six graduate students competed for the 2020 UCalgary Virtual 3MT crown with hundreds of people tuning in to the finals on July 24. An event that typically draws an audience of about 80 to 100 people had 283 people watching, and 882 votes were cast for the People’s Choice, making the eighth annual UCalgary 3MT one of the most-watched ever.

For first time, biomedical engineering student takes top spot

This year’s competition was tight, with outstanding presenters from a variety of programs speaking on an array of topics including cannabis testing, developing high efficiency power amplifiers, vaccine development, preventing blood clots, enhancing patient care, and more.

The student who rose to the top was Sophia Shah, pictured above, a master’s student from biomedical engineering under the supervision of Dr. Roman Krawetz, PhD. Shah’s talk, Epidural Fat Stem Cells: Do Not Discard, focuses on epidural fat stem cells around the spine and their ability to assist in healing, therefore challenging existing clinical practices.

Great communication can make your research go viral

Although doing the UCalgary 3MT in an online format was not what Shah initially signed up for, with the guidance of the My GradSkills team, she appreciated the change because it gave her more practice to perfect her talk.

“It was interesting [to videotape the 3MT talk] because naturally, I could see/hear the flaws in my presentation once I started recording myself. Doing multiple takes allowed me to make improvements,” says Shah.

As a regular research symposium participant and award-winning debate student, Shah is no stranger to communicating and articulating complex topics. Not only does she practise communicating to those large groups but finds time and value in discussing her research with friends and family who were inspired to help her go a little viral.

“I regularly discuss my research with my friends and family. These very people played a big role in promoting the 3MT finals event. I believe this is the first time my research has reached so many people!” says Shah.

With the help of My GradSkills promotions, and Shah’s family and friends, her talk had over 300 views in less than a month.

Other UCalgary 3MT top performers have skills

Shah was accompanied by some other amazing speakers including Samiha Mohsen from community health sciences and Iulia Bodnariuc from chemistry, all of whom participated in the My GradSkills workshops and feedback sessions.

Second-place and People’s Choice winner, Samiha Mohsen, a master's student under the supervision of Dr. Kristen Fiest, PhD, gained a whopping 400 People’s Choice votes — the most by any student participant in the UCalgary 3MT’s history. Her talk, Impact of Family Presence on Critically Ill Patients, was not just loved by the judges but also by hundreds around the world.

Samiha Mohsen (second place).

Although Mohsen is often anxious about speaking publicly, she was encouraged by her supervisor and committee members to find unique and creative ways to practise her communication skills.

“[The UCalgary 3MT] is a unique experience because most public speaking opportunities in grad school are tailored to audiences within academia, while the 3MT is for general audiences. It has also helped me disseminate my research to not only academics and scientists, but also to patients, families, and the wider community,” says Mohsen.

Likewise, master's student and third-place winner Iulia (Julia) Bodnariuc, with the support of supervisor Dr. Justin MacCallum, PhD, and the My GradSkills team, captured the attention of many with her talk entitled Designing a THC Roadside Test Using a Protein From Our Brain featuring research on designing tests to distinguish between the psychoactive and non-psychoactive components of cannabis that can inhibit humans' normal functioning.

Iulia (Julia) Bodnariuc (third place).

“It was important to me to practise my presentation and communication skills regarding my research. I am starting to wrap up my degree and knew this would be an excellent skill to hone as I enter the job market,” says Bodnariuc.

Support UCalgary at the regional 3MT competition Sept. 23, 2020 at 1 p.m.

The Western Regional 3MT competition will be held virtually on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. and will be hosted by the University of Alberta. Seventeen Western universities will be represented by their 3MT winners — all competing for a spot in the national competition later in the fall. Details on the regional competition and how you can vote for your People’s Choice will be available soon on the My GradSkills website.

“I am very excited [to represent UCalgary at the regional competition] and am grateful to have gotten this far!” says Shah.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies, through its My GradSkills programming, supports and encourages graduate students to participate in skills development by providing several opportunities to help graduate students flourish in graduate school and beyond. Learn more about My GradSkills programming.

Congratulations again to all our winners. Watch the winning UCalgary 3MT talks.