Three Minute Thesis winner off to Western Canadian finals

PhD student taking polished research pitch to regional level after wowing judges and audience at UAlberta competition.


Joshua Lee delivers his winning Three Minute Thesis presentation at the UAlberta finals.

(Edmonton) Success in three minutes or less: University of Alberta graduate student Joshua Lee knows all about it, having aced the initial rounds of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition, and he’s now taking his winning presentation to the Western Canadian level.

Lee, a PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, beat out 13 other U of A semifinalists March 27 in successfully explaining his research to a lay audience in three minutes or less in a whirlwind competition designed to hone communication skills. He now proceeds to the next round of competition as the sole representative for the U of A, and having walked away with both first place and the people’s choice award in the campus final, he is ready to give his winning thesis again at the end of April.

The 3MT competition, hosted at the U of A for the first time ever by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, was started at Queensland University in 2008 and is hosted annually in 12 countries. With the benefit of just one slide, one photo and no props, the competition challenges graduate students to explain their work quickly and clearly for an everyday audience.

Runner-up in the U of A competition was master’s student Samira Dia-Bakirly from the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, who gave a presentation on orthodontic treatment and stem cell/ultrasound therapy.

Lee competes April 30 at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, vying with other contestants from universities across Western Canada including the universities of British Columbia, Victoria, Calgary, Lethbridge, Saskatchewan, Regina, Manitoba and Winnipeg, for a first-place cash prize of $1,000, $500 for second place, $250 for third place and a people’s choice award of $250. The first-place winner also gets a berth in the virtual national finals in June. The April event will be livestreamed at www.livestream.com/livetru and people can also vote online to choose their favourite presenter for the people’s choice award.

Those presenters moving on to the national competition will compete for a top prize of $1,500 and a paid trip to the Canadian Association of Graduate Schools annual conference in Calgary.

In the semifinals last month, Lee feels he impressed judges with a snappy presentation, titled “Treating Genetic Disease With DNA Band-Aids.” His research focuses on treating diseases like muscular dystrophy, which are caused by misplaced genetic sequences.

He used an everyday example of an “autocorrect fail” text message to explain the challenge his work is addressing in medical genetics, and likened a possible solution to applying a DNA Band-Aid.

“If we can design DNA Band-Aids to bind that area and skip it and produce a protein, we can treat a majority of patients with this disease,” Lee told his audience.

Dressed in a dapper vest decorated with his grandfather’s pocket watch for the presentation, he worked to exude confidence and believes the judges picked up on that, along with his easy-to-grasp explanation. He also took care to apply his work to the audience, noting that one day the Band-Aid solution could also help treat many other diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and HIV. “I told them why the technology might matter to them.”

Lee spent a lot of time rehearsing to get to this latest round of competition and tweaked his pitch along the way, based on judges’ feedback. “I practised the presentation many times, so I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I am a firm believer that the more prepared you are, the less you have to fear.”

Representing the U of A, Lee hopes to continue his winning streak all the way to the national level. “It is a responsibility on my part to be a good ambassador for the U of A, and I look forward to doing that.”

Watch more Three Minute Thesis presentations