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(L-R) Photo of Sophia Shah, Samina Mohsen and Iulia Bodnariuc. // Photos courtesy of YouTube.

“Important research needs to be effectively communicated”: Interviews with UCalgary’s Three Minute Thesis winners

By Nikayla Goddard, August 13 2020—

UCalgary’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition took place on July 24 online, welcoming seven finalists from previous heats to the virtual stage. While Masters projects can span years of research, hundreds of pages and thousands of jargon terms, the 3MT competition challenges competitors to scale down their research into a three minute recorded video for judges to view.

All three winners of the competition were thrilled and surprised at their placements — the Gauntlet interviewed Sophia Shah, Samiha Mohsen and Iulia Bodnariuc to learn more about their projects and their success.

Sophia Shah was the winner of the 3MT competition for her project “Epidural fat stem cells: do not discard.” Shah completed an undergraduate degree in biology at U of C, and as she is currently finishing her first year in her biomedical engineering masters degree, she says entering the masters program as one of the best decisions she has ever made. 

“One thing that I really enjoy about [my project] is that a lot of times when you do research you’re looking for a cure or a solution or whatnot,” she explained, “but what is interesting about my project is that instead of finding the key answer or the end-all experiment, it focuses more on challenging pre-existing clinical practices.” 

Shah’s project consists of a lot of hands-on work and experiments that dives into a variety of different fields, like engineering, biology and genetics, as well as a healthy balance of research and literature. 

Shah is a trainee at the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, which she cites as the reason she decided to sign up for the 3MT. She explained that they encourage their students to participate in the 3MT, and organize an internal 3MT competition to allow them to practice and prepare on a smaller scale. She ended up winning first place within the McCaig Institute, and while she was hesitant to enter into the U of C competition, she signed up. Shortly after, she was notified that the competition would be moved online, and she felt better about not having to speak in front of people as the format moved to a recorded video version.

Shah said the process of recording her video with the help of her sister was rife with mistakes and redos, and eventually submitted it tiredly. With a supportive family behind her sharing her video, Shah said she expected to maybe only receive the People’s Choice award. When the People’s Choice award was announced with second place to Samiha Mohsen, Shah said she resigned to winning nothing. 

“It didn’t even cross my mind that ‘Oh, there’s one position to be announced and that could be me’,” she laughed. “So when I got first place, I was definitely really surprised, really shaky.”

Samiha Mohsen was the second place winner, and also received the People’s Choice award, for her project “Impact of family presence on critically ill patients.” Mohsen is finishing up her first year in the Community Health Sciences program at the Cumming School of Medicine. 

Her research focuses on delirium, a confusional state prevalent in critically ill patients. Mohsen explained, “We’re trying to find the association between how family members impact delirium in critically ill patients.”

Mohsen said that her project consisted of a lot of research and literature reviews, using recorded data and statistics in addition to talking to patients and stakeholders about their experiences. 

When Mohsen said she was kind of scared of public speaking, and so wanted to work on improving her skills and get involved in new opportunities. 

“So when I saw the 3MT, I thought that was the perfect way of not only practicing public speaking, but also being able to talk in lay terms to audiences with different backgrounds. Disseminating my research in an understandable manner,” she said. 

In reaction to winning, Mohsen said, “I was really excited, but I was also really thankful to everyone that helped me get there […] I was really happy with the results.” 

In concluding her interview, Mohsen added that it’s important for researchers to be involved in opportunities like the 3MT, as “Important research needs to be effectively communicated to have an impact.”

Taking third place in the competition was Iulia Bodnariuc with her project “Designing a THC roadside test using a protein from our brain.” Bodnariuc started her masters in chemistry in 2018, originally hailing from Vancouver where she did her undergrad. Bodnariuc is also currently the Coxswain for the U of C rowing team.

“I’ve always been interested in science,” Bodnariuc said. “I’ve done a lot of research in my undergrad that I wanted to continue with my masters project.”

Bodnariuc signed up after receiving an email about the competition, thinking it would be a fun and actionable way to “push her project forward” while teaching courses. 

Bodnariuc summarized her project as “studying proteins that we have in our brains and how it interacts with different molecules found in marijuana.

“The whole premise of this study is so we can potentially change the shape of the protein so that it can only preferentially interact with one type of marijuana molecule […] and hopefully, in doing so, we can integrate it into a roadside test. But that’s a long ways down the road.” 

When asked what her reaction was to receiving third place, Bodnariuc, like the others, was surprised. 

“Everyone did so well, and I just loved hearing and listening to so many other people’s research projects. I was happy, I mean, it kinda put all my hard work into one little package at the end that said ‘you did well’.” 

With the UCalgary 3MT complete, the next step for Shah is to represent U of C at the regional competition, which makes up western Canada. It’s looking to take place at the end of September, Shah said, and likely a virtual event again. 

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