Three minutes is not a lot of time.
Just ask Sierra Holtzheuser, who had to condense months’ worth of master’s research about the importance of early literacy for economically vulnerable children into 180 seconds during Wednesday’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) research communication contest at the Mapping the New Knowledges graduate research conference.
Not only that, she had to explain it as simply as possible within the time limit so that anyone outside the world of academia could understand.
Clearly, though, Holtzeuser, a master’s student in Child and Youth Studies, has a knack for breaking things down simply - and quickly - because it landed her first place in the competition.
“I feel great,” Holtzheuser said. “All of the competitors did an amazing job demonstrating the importance of graduate research being conducted at Brock University. I’m happy that among them, my research stood out.”
The contest featured six student presenters from different disciplines. Abdullah Mahboob, who is finishing up his master’s in biotechnology, was runner-up in the contest with his three-minute speech about artificial photosystems.
Prof. John McNamara, who helped organize the contest, said Holtzheuser’s presentation stood out for the judges — University communications staff and St. Catharines Standard columnist Doug Herod — because she presented with confidence and style.
“She captured the audience with the impact that her research was making on her community,” McNamara said. “Sierra was able to emotionally connect with the audience and I think people were really struck with her poise and charisma.”
As the winner, Holtzheuser will represent Brock at the provincial 3MT contest at Queen’s University in Kingston on April 18. Thirty students from 17 Ontario universities will go thesis to thesis in Kingston.
In the meantime, Holtzheuser will continue to refine her presentation.
“I was provided with some great feedback after the Brock competition on ways to improve my three-minute thesis,” Holtzheuser said. “I plan to make a couple changes to the content and my presentation style in preparation for the provincial competition.”
McNamara said all the presenters gave top-notch talks, given the strict rules of the competition, which originated at the University Queensland in 2008. This was the first year Brock held its own edition.
Many of the competitors are beginning careers where they will need to be able to make their research accessible to a general audience. Competitions such as the 3MT help them hone those skills, McNamara explained.
Competitor Jessey Rice, who is completing his master’s in earth sciences, appreciated the contest for that reason. He went through 17 drafts of his speech until he felt confident he had something for everyone.
“I spend most of my time looking at dirt through a microscope so it’s good to bring it back and relate it to everyone so they see that what you’re doing is practical,” Rice said.
Keeping it simple was also Jenna Lorusso’s biggest challenge when she talked about her research about physical education in the 21st -century university. Still, she appreciated the opportunity to do it.
“It’s a really great exercise,” Lorusso said. “Now, having done it, I’d really recommend it because it brings it all home and makes (research) relevant.”