Boiling things down

The biggest challenge facing life scientists — beyond curing disease, of course — is explaining what they do. Most of them are labouring on molecular mysteries that are difficult to visualize and involve a cascade of processes, and thus elude easy comprehension by the general public. And in these attention-deficient times, if it’s not easily understood, people move on. But explaining those mysteries and cascades to people outside the lab is crucial if scientists hope to continue to get support for their work. That was probably why the University of Queensland in Australia created the “Three Minute Thesis” competition. The 3MT, as it’s called, is a geeky version of “American Idol”: graduate students get up before a panel of judges and have three minutes to explain the breadth and signficance of their research to a non-specialist audience, in (you guessed it) three minutes. They can use only one slide and can’t use any electronic media or props. UBC held its first 3MT last spring – the first North American university to do so. To find out what it was like for one of the finalists, read her first-person account in the latest issue of UBC Medicine magazine.

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