Researcher Kalhari Goonewardene is helping to develop an antibiotic alternative for poultry. Photo by David Stobbe for the University of Saskatchewan.

3MT competition connects researchers

When Kalhari Goonewardene entered the University of Saskatchewan's Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition last spring, she didn't realize her participation would have a major impact on her research project.

Goonewardene, who is from Sri Lanka, is a PhD student in veterinary pathology at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). Her research focuses on developing an alternative to antibiotics for baby chickens.

The competition, which challenges graduate students to explain their work in three minutes or less, allowed her to share research with fellow students and non-scientists in the community.

One of those was Ahmed Abdul-Salam, a PhD student in the U of S College of Engineering, who won the 3MT people's choice award for his presentation on energy-efficient air conditioning.

Goonewardene and Abdul-Salam developed a friendship and continued talking about their work whenever they saw one other. When Goonewardene's research project needed assistance from an engineer, she introduced her supervisor, WCVM pathologist Dr. Susantha Gomis, to Abdul-Salam's supervisor, Carey Simonson, a U of S professor of mechanical engineering.

Simonson is now part of a research team, led by Gomis, that is working to provide poultry producers with an applicable tool that protects the health and profitability of their flocks.

Goonewardene believes the 3MT competition is a worthwhile venture for any researcher.

"It was perfect," she says. "I think I would definitely encourage people to participate. It's a one-of-a-kind experience. This is something that improves your communication ability."

Savhanna Wilson, the university's 3MT co-ordinator, echoes this sentiment.

"The 3MT supports opportunities for networking, collaboration and knowledge sharing by helping students to gain skills to translate complex ideas and findings, and connecting student researchers with colleagues from outside of their own disciplines and departments," she says.

The second annual U of S 3MT Competition will take place during the first week of March 2016. It is open to all current graduate students at the U of S.

The first-place winner will receive $1,000, along with an invitation to participate in the national 3MT competition. Second and third place winners will receive $500 and $300 respectively.

Goonewardene gives a few tips for participants: breathe, simplify, use digestible language and bring the human side of their work to the forefront. She also suggests that participants "create a story" about their research project.

"Something that speaks to your heart works more. It makes it more interesting and attractive," she says.

Registration closes at 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19. For more information visit the GSA website or email 3.MT@usask.ca.
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