by Sharday Mosurinjohn
Meet the participants & judges
The Queen’s-hosted inaugural Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Ontario Provincial Championship, held on Thursday, April 18th, proved to be a tremendous success. The event drew a packed house, a five-member judging panel of field leaders, and thirty Master’s and PhD students who have demonstrated themselves to be among the most polished public communicators of the cohort of emerging scholars in Ontario today.
Judges included economist Donald Drummond, of Drummond Report notoriety, Peter Gooch, Senior Director of Policy and Analysis at the Council of Ontario Universities, eminent Toronto-based lawyer Hugh Christie, champion marathon swimmer Vicki Keith, and guitarist for the Tragically Hip, Rob Baker. Reflecting on being part of this diverse group of judges, Baker says he “thought long and hard” about whether he would be “an appropriate fit” for the task of evaluating such specialized research projects, before concluding that the task, after all, was about “judging the quality of their three-minute presentation” to a non-specialist audience and happily agreeing to fill the role.
(LtoR: Hugh Christie, Vicki Keith, Chau Minh Phan, Jasdeep Saggar, Abraham Heifets, Rob Baker, Donald Drummond, Peter Gooch)
In the end, judges awarded third place to Chau Minh Phan, a PhD Candidate in Vision Science at the University of Waterloo (supervisors: Dr. Lyndon Jones & Dr. Lakshman Subbaraman) for his lively talk “Treatment of fungal eye infections using contact lenses and nanoparticles.” Second place went to Abraham Heifets PhD Candidate in Computer Science at the University of Toronto (supervisor: Dr. Igor Jurisica), for engaging the audience with “How can we make better medicines? Computer tools for chemistry.” First place belonged to fellow UofT competitor Jasdeep Saggar, a PhD Candidate in Medical Biophysics (supervisor: Dr. Ian Tannock) for the spectacularly clear presentation of “Hypoxia-activated pro-drugs: A novel approach for breast cancer treatment.” The People’s Choice Award recognized Michael Taylor, an M.Sc student in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Western University (supervisor: Dr. Amardeep Thind), for weaving a compelling story about health, wellbeing, and social responsibility in “Risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes: An immigrant story.”
The distinction of winning the inaugural 3MT Ontario Provincial Championship Competition is, as Hugh Christie put it, a matter of being primus inter pares. Saggar gracefully acknowledged this honour when she accepted a gleaming first-place trophy “on behalf of all of the amazing competitors” during a celebratory dinner held at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre.
Following the twenty-nine other presentations (that’s ninety minutes of highly concentrated graduate research, all told) Saggar said she felt “overwhelmed by the caliber of work” being showcased from among the sixteen participating Ontario universities. Saggar’s own work has to do with improving treatment outcomes by targeting the cancer cells that live at the outskirts of a tumor’s blood supply, and which are therefore typically missed by intravenous chemotherapy.
Having previously worked on problems at the cellular level in pre-clinical contexts in her MSc research into links between diet and cancer (particularly, the properties of flax), Saggar was attracted to her current work because it takes place at what’s called the “translational” stage of health research – a stage where existing knowledge about how a compound operates in humans is sufficient to allow research into novel uses. “Prevention – especially prevention through nutritional wellness – is crucial,” affirms Saggar, “but I also want to help people who are already ill.”
Commenting on what a rare and valuable opportunity 3MT represents for academics to communicate their findings and impress upon public audiences the value of rigorous research, Queen’s competitor Ryley Beddoe (PhD Candidate, Civil Engineering) commended organizers Colette Steer (Coordinator of Recruitment Activities in Queen’s School of Graduate Studies) and Brenda Brouwer (Vice-Provost and Dean of Queen’s School of Graduate Studies) for having “hit the competition out of the park.” Steer, for her part, “hopes that even more graduate students will get on board next year, to practice their communications skills and how to promote their research. At the same time an event like this, was a great opportunity to meet others students across disciplines and schools. Actually it was difficult to get them to go home!”