Western Regional 3MT Champion

USask grad student Antonia Powell has claimed the title of Western Canadian Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Champion after competing at Western Regional Competition at the University of Winnipeg this spring.

The Three Minute Thesis Competition began in 2008 at the University of Queensland and has since grown into global competition with over 200 universities around the world challenging their students to communicate their research in a new way. The purpose of the competition is to challenge grad students to communicate their research to a panel of non-specialist judges in three minutes or less, giving researchers the opportunity to explain the significance of their work to a less knowledgeable audience.

Earlier this year, Antonia Powell was feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic taking a toll on her studies. Feeling burnt out and in need of a new challenge, Antonia received an email from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources (AgBio) advertising a college-wide Three Minute Thesis Competition. She signed up, believing it would be an interesting opportunity to share her knowledge with her grad school community.

From there, Antonia began to brainstorm potential ideas for her presentation, looking for different ways to paint a picture and tell a story with her research. As a Master of Science student studying Applied Microbiology, finding ways to effectively communicate her research is a challenge, but one she was prepared to meet, “Over the next days, I scanned through many of my different life experiences...thought of all the different documentaries that I love to watch and some of the books I’ve read to find a storyline that would aptly convey the main ideas of the research that we do in the lab and its importance.” 

Antonia works as a member of Dr. Vladimir Vujanovic’s lab in the Food and Bioproduct Sciences (FABS) department of AgBio, with her research centering on Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), one of the most widespread and serious diseases affecting wheat. The ‘battle’ between FHB and fungal biocontrol became the centrepiece of her presentation, and her unique perspective on parasitic fungi began to take shape into an engaging 3MT presentation.

After earning the top spot in the AgBio 3MT competition, Antonia was feeling re-energized and was encouraged by her department, supervisor, friends, and family to take part in CGPS’s local competition, hosted by the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA). She went on to win the GSA competition as well, earning her the opportunity to participate as USask’s representative in the Western Regional competition at the University of Winnipeg. “In order to not be overwhelmed by the nerves and the enormity of this opportunity, I encouraged myself to just take it one step at a time and have fun,” said Antonia.

While preparing for the next step of the 3MT competition, Antonia was thankful for the support she received from her friends and family in the form of prayers, practice, and feedback. To deal with the pressure of the competition, she found unique ways to de-stress, “I would practice almost every day, sometimes for up to two hours. In between breaks I would sing and dance just to relax my nerves!” In the end, all the preparation turned out to be worth it as she emerged as USask’s first-ever winner of the Western Regional 3MT competition, with her presentation titled, “Conquering a Cereal Killer”.

As a result of Antonia’s success in her college, local, and regional competitions, she will travel to Montreal in November to participate in the 2022 National 3MT Showcase. This showcase will serve as a unique opportunity to share and celebrate her research with the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies and her grad school community.

“My experience in the 3MT has given me a renewed passion and drive for my current research,” says Antonia, “Seeing people’s reactions and hearing their feedback has given me a newfound drive to push through obstacles, whether in research or other areas of work or life.”

Looking to improve your own communication skills as a grad student? Check out Antonia’s tips for nailing your presentation here.