April 27, 2023

UCalgary 3MT returns to in-person finals for 1st time since 2019

Annual graduate research communications competition sees talks on artificial intelligence in health care, moving beyond a meat-based diet, the consequences of seismic activity, and more
Red 3MT programs on display in front of a large, 3 dimensional UCalgary spark
Dan Ferguson, Faculty of Graduate Studies

Dana Lowry, a doctoral candidate in kinesiology, is UCalgary’s newest Three Minute Thesis (3MT) champion. Lowry came out on top in a field of 10 finalists in the annual graduate research communications competition. 

In the 3MT, graduate students have three minutes and a single slide to make their research clear to a non-specialist audience. 2023 marks the 11th annual 3MT competition at UCalgary.  

The event took place in person for the first time since 2019 on Thursday, April 20 at the new Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking. The finalists wowed the audience with talks on artificial intelligence in health care, moving beyond a meat-based diet, the consequences of seismic activity, and much more. 

Community leaders as judges

The competitors were greeted by an enthusiastic, full-house audience in the beautiful new space on the fourth floor of the Hunter Student Commons, with Chancellor Jon Cornish and former 3MT finalist Chantelle Anderson hosting the event. Provost Penny Werthner was also on hand to congratulate the winners and hand out trophies and certificates. 

A panel of five judges had an extraordinary task naming a champion from among the finalists. Judges for 2023 drew from both the UCalgary and the greater Calgary community, including Parker Chapple, director of the Beakerhead Festival; Naheed Nenshi, former mayor of Calgary; Dr. Emily Marasco, PhD, a teaching chair at the Schulich School of Engineering; Loren McGinnis, host of the Calgary Eye Opener on CBC Radio 1; and Chantal Rytz, a PhD candidate in the Cumming School of Medicine. 

Both Rytz and Marasco are former UCalgary 3MT champions from 2021 and 2013 respectively. 

Taking control of presentation anxiety

Lowry will now move on to the Western Regionals in Saskatoon on May 25. 

“I entered the 3MT because I knew I had to get over a fear of public speaking,” says Lowry. “Even when I am clear and focused on my topic, my body tells me that I am anxious. I know that in academia, I need to be in control of how my body responds to speaking in front of a crowd.” 

One would scarcely believe that Lowry felt even a little nervous, considering how polished her talk was and how well she commanded the room. The fact that she experiences anxiety is what makes all the difference: “I practised a lot so that I would be very prepared,” she explains.

“I had also done something called a ‘lightning talk’ about my research which was also three minutes, so I knew I was in a good situation for entering the 3MT.” 

Lowry’s research focuses on understanding how a pregnant woman's or new mother’s use of prebiotics can help gestating or breastfeeding infants develop and maintain a healthy gut biome while mitigating some of the negative effects of antibiotics. Her research using rats is already showing indications that mother rats with a diet that includes prebiotics pass along an abundance of helpful bacteria to their pups.

In time, Lowry hopes her research will help inform the decisions of expectant or new mothers around the use of both antibiotics and prebiotics. 

Lowry didn’t anticipate her 3MT experience would lead her into such a welcoming community. “Felicia Glatz and Kim Suvan, and later Tara Christie [all from the Faculty of Graduate Studies] were so supportive and helpful all the way through,” says Lowry. “I didn’t expect there would be such a positive and friendly team to help me at every step.” 

An international competition

The 3MT started at the University of Queensland in Australia. During a drought, citizens were asked to use egg timers while taking a shower to preserve water. The timer became the inspiration for the competition, in which being clear and concise are the keys to success. 

“The 3MT is recognized across Canada and around the world as a valuable way to develop essential communication skills,” says Dr. Robin Yates, dean and vice-provost of graduate studies.

“Most of the graduate students who go through this process aren’t going to win, and only a handful ever make it to finals. Yet every student who participates gains some insight and practice in knowledge translation, and that is a skill that will serve them well throughout their careers. I’m incredibly proud of all our 3MT competitors.” 

The 2023 winners include: 

  • First place: Dana Lowry (Kinesiology; supervisor – Dr. Raylene Reimer, PhD). Protection with Prebiotics: An Early Life Intervention to Mitigate Negative Effects of Antibiotics 

  • Second place and people’s choice: Jamie Roeske (Biomedical Engineering; supervisor – Dr. C. Lebel, PhD). Mind the Gap: Identifying Mismatches in the Rates of Paediatric Brain Development 

  • Third place: Joseph Madamesila (Physics and Astronomy; supervisors – Dr. Ekaterina Tchistiakova, PhD, and Dr. Nicola Ploquin, PhD). Can an AI Detect Brain Cancer Earlier Using Diffusion MRI?