Research students rise to challenge of Three Minute Thesis

Published 20 August 2010

nathaliedharmaAn entertaining and informative talk about “feeding our genes” has won Dharma Purushothaman from the University of New England a place in the Grand Final of the inaugural Australia and New Zealand Three Minute Thesis Competition.

Dharma (pictured here, right) – a postgraduate researcher in genetics – was one of the six UNE finalists who competed this week for the right to represent the University at next month’s Grand Final in Brisbane.

The UNE judges were unanimous in their decision that Dharma’s three-minute talk deserved to win the UNE finalists’ competition. “Engaging” and “entertaining” were among the adjectives they used in describing their reaction to the talk, in which Dharma urged her audience to look after their genes by eating a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and informed the vegetarians among them that they could find a rich source of Omega-3 in flaxseed oil. Her talk was titled “Feeding your genes for fitness and health”.

Dharma also won the People’s Choice Award, based on the votes cast by members of the audience in the lecture theatre.

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, presented her with the awards, which included a $400 voucher (Finalist Award) and a $100 voucher (People’s Choice Award) for purchases at the MAC1 computer shop at UNE.

Receiving the awards, Dharma thanked the University and the staff of the School of Environmental and Rural Science, and, in particular, her supervisors Dr Wendy Brown, Dr Shubiao Wu and Dr Barbara Vanselow. “They are my strength,” she said.

Coming from the southern Indian State of Kerala, she arrived at UNE in 2005 and, after completing a Master’s degree program in genetics, she began work on her PhD project 18 months ago.

“I used to do a lot of public speaking,” she said, “but this is the first time that I’ve ever talked about genetics in public.”

The Three Minute Thesis Competition, for postgraduate research students, started at the University of Queensland in 2008, and has developed into this year’s trans-Tasman event. More than 25 universities in Australia and New Zealand are expected to be represented in the Grand Final. The aim of the contestants is to deliver – in no more than three minutes – a compelling talk on their thesis topic in language appropriate for an intelligent but non-specialist audience.

The six contestants in the UNE Final were all winners of first-round contests conducted within the University’s individual Schools. All six talks were highly praised by the judges, who also offered constructive comments.

The titles of the talks included “Grief and hope amongst Hazara refugees” (presented by Denise Phillips from the School of Humanities), “Autoethnography of a mature-aged student with a mental illness” (Gayle Casselle, School of Education), “Multi-modal sensory processing in common marmosets” (Caralyn Kemp, School of Science and Technology), and “Fighting invasive biofuels crops with the law” (Elodie le Gal, School of Law).

The runner-up in the final, with a talk titled “Resolving competition in the bilingual brain”, was Nathalie Wess (pictured here, left), a postgraduate student from Germany working in the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences.

UNE is providing financial support for Dharma Purushothaman’s trip to Brisbane to compete in the Grand Final at the University of Queensland on the 21st of September.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Nathalie Wess and Dharma Purushothaman displayed here was taken after the announcement of their success in the UNE Final of the Three Minute Thesis Competition.