Pachyderms, parasites and poo: PhD student wows judges with impressive elephant expertise


University of Sheffield Three Minute Thesis winner Carly Lynsdale (credit: Virpi Lummaa)

A researcher who managed to boil her PhD thesis down into three minutes will be representing the University of Sheffield in a national contest.

Last night, Carly Lynsdale won the University of Sheffield heat of the Three Minute Thesis competition, where postgraduate researchers sum up their studies in 180 seconds, with a single presentation slide as their backdrop.

Around 100 postgraduates entered the Sheffield competition, and heats were held to choose the two best entries from each Faculty.

Carly, who studies in Animal and Plant Sciences, was chosen to represent the Faculty of Science alongside Rebecca Slack in Psychology.

Having wowed the Sheffield judges, Carly will now go on to the Three Minute Thesis national semi-finals in York on Monday 14 July to compete for a place in the final, which takes place on Tuesday 9 September in Manchester.

Her research focuses on the evolutionary ecology of parasite infection in Asian elephants and her talk was entitled Pachyderms, parasites and poo.

Carly said: “When I entered the Three Minute Thesis competition I didn’t realise how difficult it actually is to try and explain approximately three years of work in such a short space of time! Although definitely a challenge, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and one I would recommend to any PhD student.

“As a first year I found it particularly useful as not only did I receive some excellent presentation training, but the experience also helped me focus on the outline of my research, the main questions I wanted to answer and how to explain it all to a general audience.

“Winning was absolutely fantastic! I’m very happy to have done well and represented my research group, department and faculty at the University finals and I’m going to use the prize money to attend some conferences over the summer. Winning was also a complete surprise to me as the other finalists presented brilliantly, showcasing a massive variety of really interesting research topics. I’m now looking forward to presenting my work and meeting other postgraduate researchers at the national semi-finals in York where I’m representing the University (as well as the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences and the Faculty of Science!).”

Masoud Hassan, Isabel Winney, Abigail Dickinson, Rebecca Slack, Martyn Chilton, Fawwaz Ali, Angela White, and Carly Lynsdale, who took part in the Faculty of Science heat of the Three Minute Thesis competition.

Masoud Hassan, Isabel Winney, Abigail Dickinson, Rebecca Slack, Martyn Chilton, Fawwaz Ali, Angela White, and Carly Lynsdale, who took part in the Faculty of Science heat of the Three Minute Thesis competition.

Eight researchers from the Faculty of Science  took part in the Faculty heat. Competing alongside Carly and Rebecca were Abigail Dickinson, Angela White, Fawwaz Ali, Isabel Winney, Masoud Hassan and Martyn Chilton.

Carly and Rebecca were picked to represent the Faculty of Science by a judging panel that included postdoctoral researchers from across the Faculty. Dr Laura Smith, from Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, was on the judging panel at last night’s University heat.

Rebecca said: “Taking part in the Three Minute Thesis competition has been an excellent experience for me. To be able to explain your research clearly to a non-specialist is so important, not just because your friends and family can then say “Oh, now I understand what you do!”, but also, I think describing where your work fits in the bigger picture gives you a stronger sense of identity to what you are contributing, or aiming to contribute to your field of study.

“I would encourage all PhDs to take part and battle those nerves – after all, it only takes three minutes!”

3MT-logoThe first Three Minute Thesis competition was set up by the University of Queensland in 2008. It has spawned local and national competitions all over the world for researchers in all fields at almost 200 universities.

This is the first time the University of Sheffield has taken part in the UK contest. The Faculty and University heats were organised by the Think Ahead team, who support early career researchers at the university.

ScienceRDPlogoSarah Bell, Researcher Development Manager for Social Sciences, and Arts and Humanities, brought the competition to Sheffield. She said: “Every single one of the finalists has given really positive feedback about their experience in the competition and the support that our team gave them throughout.

“Entrants at every stage have commented that the competition and the training provided have given them a lot more confidence in talking about their research and, interestingly, that the process has made them think much more critically about their research itself.”

The researchers who took part in the competition benefited from a series of workshops to help them develop a punchy narrative and interesting visuals. The Think Ahead team plans to repeat the competition in future years and wants to motivate all PhD researchers to produce a Three Minute Thesis video.

Three Minute Thesis at the University of Sheffield

Three Minute Thesis UK competition

More on Three Minute Thesis

Think Ahead

Follow @CarlyLynsdale and @MyanmarElephant on Twitter