Chemistry students among the 12 finalists at U of T Three Minute Thesis competition

April 15, 2020 by Sarah MacFarlane

The annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition is a unique opportunity for graduate students to present their research to a panel of non-specialist judges in a compelling and accessible way — in just three minutes. It’s a tall order, and this year, things got even more challenging when the competition was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Open to graduate students from Canadian universities, the 3MT competition is divided into three levels: local, provincial and national.

Among the finalists were Mireille Ghoussoub (Ozin Group) and Aaron Cabral (Gunning Group) of the department of chemistry. Cabral won third place for his presentation, Rapid and Sensitive Detection of Bacteria with Fluorescent Chemical Sensors

"At first, I was apprehensive about the change to an online format since I had never presented in this way,” says Cabral. “However, SGS did a fantastic job in setting up the event and adapting to the new challenges of video conference presentations. It still felt interactive, as if we were all in the same room, and I found that everything went smoothly. 

“It ended up being a benefit that it was online since we were able to broadcast it to so many people. I even had family members watch and cheer me on from their homes during the finals.” 

Ghossoub previously took top honours at the Three Minute Thesis Competition at the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) National Conference.

Watch the 2020 U of T Three Minute Thesis final

Ghossoub starts at 15:20 and Cabral starts at 1:17:27

The finals took place on Zoom and Facebook Live on April 2, with more than 400 viewers tuning in to support the 12 U of T finalists. The event also included a special guest appearance from CBC Radio Ideas producers Tom Howell and Nicola Luksic, whose documentary series Ideas from the Trenches showcases the work of PhD students across Canada.  

Amalia Gil from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering earned first place for her presentation, Identifying Distractions in Surgery with Eye-tracking. She will move on to the provincial finals at the University of Windsor, which have been postponed, but O’Leary is hopeful that the success of the U of T finals will encourage other institutions to consider virtual events.  

“We had a great turnout and there were a lot of positive responses,” says O’Leary. “People thanked us for putting it on and providing some good news. These incredible scholars and the great research they're doing offer hope for the future.”  

And public interest in the event is still going strong. To date, the Facebook livestream of the U of T 3MT finals has received more than 9,000 views.  

“It makes me really happy to know that thousands of people have now watched the livestream,” says Arellano Saab, who was named the people’s choice winner for his presentation, The Witchweed Problem: Every Atom Counts. “At times during grad school, you start to wonder if what you are doing is relevant to the general public. It is quite reassuring and encouraging to know that many people outside the University would be interested in hearing what I do and what I have to say about it."