PharmSci PhD student Hanie Yousefi participates in U of T Three Minute Thesis finals
Originally published in Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy News by Eileen Hoftyzer
As a Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD student in a research-intensive program, Hanie Yousefi wanted to build on her academic work and develop new skills by participating in a competition focused on communicating to a general audience.
She challenged herself to sign up for a Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition held by the Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Student Association (PSGSA) in late February. The competition asks graduate students to present their research in a clear and engaging way to a panel of non-specialist judges – in three minutes or less.
Yousefi studied chemical engineering at Sharif University in Tehran, Iran, then completed a Master’s degree in chemical engineering at McMaster University. In September 2018, she started her PhD in Shana Kelley’s lab, working on developing high-tech platforms that can detect infectious or chronic disease in biological samples.
“Communicating my research to the general public is a very important skill that shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked,” she says. “My project is important for me and I’m spending years working on it, and if I can communicate it in the right way, it can be important for others too.”
She prepared a talk that focused on her work developing a rapid diagnostic test for the novel coronavirus by detecting antibodies in the saliva, practising her presentation over and over with family and friends and getting feedback about how to make her talk clearer.
The hard work paid off. She came in first in the department competition, which gave her the confidence to register for the U of T 3MT competition, hosted by School of Graduate Studies.
Participating in 3MT is “worth the effort”
In early March, about 130 students from across the university delivered their 3MT in heats, with the top performers, including Yousefi, moving on to the semi-finals and finals. With each round of presentations, Yousefi refined her talk, incorporating thoughtful feedback from the judges. She was always able to find opportunities to improve; she says that as she went through the competition, she created nearly 20 versions of the same slide before finalizing it, each version gradually getting simpler to only include the most essential details.
“You need to focus on the essence of your research without going into all the jargon and technical challenges,” she says. “It kind of sank in gradually. It’s hard for a scientist to take out parts of their presentation that they think are necessary, but sometimes you need to. This is an art that doesn’t come naturally with graduate school.”
The top 12 students participated in the U of T 3MT finals on March 31, and while Yousefi didn’t place in the finals, she says that the experience has been valuable in helping her develop critical communication skills that she can apply throughout her career.
Yousefi hopes to see more PharmSci students participate in the U of T competition next year and encourages any students who are interested in honing their public speaking skills to consider it, even if they feel intimidated by the prospect.
“This presentation is intimidating by nature because it’s not what we specialize in, and it’s intimidating for everyone,” she says. “But even though this skill might be outside of our comfort zone, it is so important. Even doing one round of the competition will teach you a lot and be worth the effort.”