Psychology student wins UVic’s first 3MT competition

- Valerie Shore

Research was efficiently communicated, cash was won and history was made at the university’s first-ever Three Minute Thesis competition, held on March 6 as part of UVic’s annual IdeaFest celebration.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is a research communication competition that challenges master’s and doctoral students to give a compelling and public-friendly presentation on their thesis research—and why it matters—in a mere three minutes using only one Powerpoint slide.


“As the first 3MT competition at UVic, this is an historical occasion,” said emcee Dr. David Capson, UVic’s dean of graduate studies. “This is a great opportunity for community engagement—to have our incredibly talented students connect with UVic supporters and the community at large.”

The competition was first developed by the University of Queensland, Australia, in 2008 and is catching on like wildfire at universities around the world. It’s now held at more 170 institutions in 17 countries, including Canada, where the first national 3MT championship will take place this June.

“It’s a very challenging task to boil down many hours of research into such a short time,” noted Capson. “These students make it look easy, but believe me, it is not.”

The night’s big winner was Jessica Rourke, a PhD student in psychology, who wowed the packed David Lam Auditorium with her presentation on “Self-Forgiveness: Escaping Your Own Alcatraz,” a community-based investigation into the negative emotions that can lead to depression, illness, substance abuse and, sometimes, violence.

“I’m very passionate about my topic and this was a way for me to let others know about it,” says Rourke, who won a $1,500 cash prize for her efforts. “Writing a dissertation requires so much adherence to strict rules of formatting and scholarly language. This was an opportunity to get creative and try to figure out the aspects that would most interest people.”

Samantha Harder, a PhD student in physics and astronomy, earned the runner-up award ($1,000), as well as the People’s Choice Award ($500) from the audience for her engaging presentation on personalized cancer radiation therapy.

Conveying the value of her research was reward in itself, says Harder. “I’m doing this research not just to receive my PhD, but to genuinely improve the way we approach cancer treatments. Sharing what I’m doing with the community, and receiving positive support from them, assures me that my research is worth the effort.”

Rourke, Harder and three other finalists were selected from more than 50 entrants from across campus during five “heat” sessions held in February.

The other finalists were: Michael Dias (music) on “The Creative Process: A Composer’s Sketches and Drafts”; Veronika Irvine (computer science) on “Exploring Math Through the Art of Lace”; and Bernadette Perry (French) on “Explorez: Gamifying French-Language Learning.”

The winners were selected, American Idol-style, by a panel of judges: veteran science journalist Bob McDonald, host of CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks; Dave Obee, editor in chief of the Times Colonist; Janet Rogers, poet laureate for the City of Victoria, Maureen Sawa, CEO of the Greater Victoria Public Library; and UVic President Jamie Cassels.

Effectively condensing and communicating one’s work is an invaluable skill in today’s job market, says Capson. “No matter what career path our students follow after graduation, they will be called upon to communicate their work to non-specialists, whether they are peers, managers, customers, investors or the general public.”

Rourke will now represent UVic in the first-ever western regional competition in Calgary in May, in a bid to move on to the first-ever Canadian 3MT championship sponsored by the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies.

Both Rourke and Harder admit that paring down years of work into three minutes was a lot harder than they had thought it would be, but totally worth it in the end. “I absolutely recommend this to other grad students,” says Rourke. “It is a fantastic experience and you meet some really great people. I think this is going to become a UVic tradition.”

Adds Harder: “And I can now explain my research to my parents and put their minds at rest to why their daughter is still a student at 25-years-old!”


Update (March 24): Local broadcaster Shaw TV also aired a brief news segment about the 3MT competition at UVic. That video is also available on YouTube.


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