Done in 180 seconds: snappy science from Precinct PhD students

Eight PhD students entertained and informed their audience at the 2017 St Vincent’s Precinct Three Minute Thesis competition, held this week at Garvan.
28 July 2017

Congratulations to all the participants and prize winners in this year’s St Vincent’s Precinct Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, which was held this week at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

3MT competitions are held around the globe, and all follow a specific format: PhD students are given just three minutes to explain their research in a compelling manner, using just one static PowerPoint slide, and their presentations must be easily understood by a non-specialist audience.

Eight students from the Precinct rose to the challenge this year, with six researchers from Garvan and two from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute presenting on a range of topics from pancreatic cancer, epigenetics, and heart valve disorders to immune system conditions, bone fractures and more.

A panel of three judges - Garvan’s Professor Don Chisholm AO, New Scientist Australasia Reporter Dr Alice Klein, and Maya Bahra, a year 11 student at Ascham School in Sydney – assessed the presenters on their communication style, how the significance of the work was relayed, and their engagement with the audience.

First, second and third place winners were chosen by the panel and the audience was also asked to vote for a People’s Choice winner. The Garvan Research Foundation provided cash prizes.


The three winners were:

1st Prize: Dr Louis Wang (Victor Chang)

Louis gave a presentation entitled ‘A fish looks nothing like a human...except in heart failure!’ He described his studies of a genetic form of heart disease in zebrafish, which he hopes will shed light on the mechanisms of disease in people, and explain why some individuals have heart failure while others do not. Louis is supervised by Diane Fatkin and Professor Michael Feneley at the Victor Chang Institute.

2nd Prize and People’s Choice award: Bethany Pillay (Immunology Division, Garvan)

Bethany presented a talk entitled ‘The immune defence force’ and described how, just like a nation using the combined defences of air, navy and army forces, getting the balance of cells right in the human immune ‘defence force’ is key to defending against diverse threats. Bethany is supervised by Professor Stuart Tangye and Dr Cindy Ma.

3rd Prize: Etienne Masle-Farquhar (Immunology Division, Garvan)

In his talk entitled ‘Autoimmune disease: Is winter coming?’, Etienne described his work on autoimmune disease, using the analogy of a snowball rolling downhill to describe how our immune cells acquire multiple mutations over time, which can lead to cancer in some cases and autoimmunity in others. Etienne is supervised by Professor Chris Goodnow and Dr Joanne Reed.


The other contestants were Yolanda Colino Sanguino, Kendelle Murphy, Dr Weiwen Chen and Ashleigh Morgan, from Garvan, and Dr Mayooran Namasivayam, from the Victor Chang Institute.

3MT was developed by the University of Queensland in 2008, and 3MT competitions are now held across Australia and worldwide.

Initiated by Garvan's Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Marie Dziadek, Garvan has organised the 3MT for the St Vincent’s Precinct since 2013.

“The quality of the presentations this year was extremely high - all the students did a superb job,” says Dr Dziadek.

“We are very appreciative of the support and training provided for our students each year by Gwyn Jones, Learning and Language Advisor at UNSW Australia. By the end of the somewhat gruelling training the students could confidently and succinctly articulate the purpose of their research, which can be very challenging.

“It is wonderful to watch these young scientists as they develop both their scientific expertise and their communication skills.”

This week’s St Vincent’s Precinct 3MT participants can go on to compete at further 3MT competitions at UNSW Australia, within the Faculty of Medicine and then university-wide.

Garvan students have performed well at such competitions in the past few years: Nancy Mourad was awarded second place and the ASPIRE prize in the 2016 UNSW interfaculty 3MT final for her talk on dormant breast cancer cells that reactivate in bone; Scott Youlten won the People’s Choice and ASPIRE award at the 2015 UNSW interfaculty final for his talk on Skeletal Marriage Counselling; and Kenny Sabir won the University of Sydney 3MT in 2014 for his work on visualising the 3D structure of chromosomes.