Sweta Roy-Carson took first place in the "3 Minute Thesis" (3MT) competition held by the graduate college on November 15.
Roy-Carson, a graduate student in bioinformatics and computational biology, explained to a general audience her research using zebra fish to study the development of neurons in the gastrointestinal system. This research could lead to treatments and potential cures for Hirschsprung’s disease, a condition present at birth in which these neurons are not formed completely, causing decreased to no movement of the intestines.
The University of Queensland, Australia, started the 3MT competition in 2008 to help its Ph.D. students effectively — but concisely — explain their research in language that nonspecialists in their field understand. Today competitions are held at universities around the world.
"If you just talk about your research with your colleagues you’re talking in jargon because we understand it," Roy-Carson said. "It’s very important to let the general audience know what’s going on in science and that it’s not very difficult for them to understand."
To prepare for the competition she researched life stories of children with Hirschsprung’s disease and chose one to talk about.
"Even though it occurs in one in five thousand newborns in the USA, it’s not very well-known," she said. "A lot of people don’t know about it so I had to make it relatable to people. What actually are the challenges that these kids are going through?"
Contestants are allowed one static slide as their only visual. A contestant that goes even one second over time is disqualified.
"You can’t wing anything," Roy-Carson said. "In that three minutes every second counts so you have to be prepared."
She first participated in a three-minute thesis event last year at the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. After realizing how challenging it is and seeing how well others performed, she decided to try again. Condensing it into three minutes and using general terminology helped Roy-Carson communicate her research across the university.
"After I gave my presentations, one of my fellow contestants, who was a statistician told me ‘I know nothing about biology, but when you started talking and after you finished I know so much about it now," Roy-Carson said. "That was my goal and I achieved that and that was more than enough for me."
This is the first year the event was held in the fall, to send an Iowa State entry to the regional competition in Indianapolis on April 7.
"It’s a very proud moment," Roy-Carson said. "Just winning is fine, but representing your university is a very big deal. It’s such an honor and so much pressure, but it just makes me feel so proud."