Kristal Ambrose's "trash talk" prevails at Dal's 3 Minute Thesis competition

- March 12, 2018

Dalhousie 3MT contestant Kristal Ambrose delivers her winning presentation. (Nick Pearce photos)
Dalhousie 3MT contestant Kristal Ambrose delivers her winning presentation. (Nick Pearce photos)

Three minutes of “trash talk” about the Bahamas helped Kristal Ambrose win over the audience and the judges at the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) finals at Dalhousie on Thursday evening.

The Masters of Marine Management student, whose research looks at how plastic waste impacts her home country of the Bahamas, won first place in the judged competition, netting a $2,000 scholarship and trip to the Eastern Regional 3MT competition at McGill University on April 18. She also took home a $500 scholarship for winning the people’s choice award, as voted on by a capacity crowd of 260 people at the Student Union Building’s McInnes Room.

Watch: Kristal Ambrose's winning presentation

For Ambrose, it was practice made perfect.

"Every night before I went to bed I would say it three or four times,” she says. “I would get in the mirror, I would rap it, I would sing it in opera, I would say it in all these different styles, I would say it in the shower, I would record myself and listen.”

After not being happy with rehearsals, Ambrose injected more of her own voice to make the presentation more authentic.

"[I thought,] ‘the one thing that has won you over in the past with people is your personality, so just stay true to yourself and speak from your heart’ and that's what I did and it worked,” says Ambrose, who completed the winning speech with 30 seconds to spare.

Research from across the university

In her presentation Ambrose explained that she’s “using predictive mapping to look at how plastic moves around the islands of the Bahamas over space and over time and assessing the impacts of this debris on the health of our marine ecosystems and our economy.”

Ambrose was one of 12 finalists came from a pool of 130 contenders, divided into 12 heats with the winner of each heat competing in the final.

Left to right: Sydney Breneol, Sarah Kraeutner, Namit Holay.

Ambrose was one of 12 finalists who came from a pool of 130 contenders, divided into 12 heats with the winner of each heat competing in the final. Some of the other presentations included Nursing’s Sydney Breneol, who visualized the web of care required for children with medical complexity; Psychology and Neuroscience’s Sarah Kraeutner, who asked the audience to make the link between mental visualization and physical performance by asking them to pretend to throw a dart; and Pathology student Namit Holay who researches the immune system’s memory.

Engaging research

The groundwork for Ambrose’s thesis started in 2015 where she gathered data in her home country through a citizen-science project called the “Plastic Beach Project,” run through her Bahamas Plastic Movement not-for-profit organization.

The master’s student met a colleague from Norway working on a similar project who helped her fine-tune her research ideas. She’s also working with her supervisor James Boxall from the Geographic Information System (GIS) Centre at Dal.

“Obviously there's still some field work that needs to be done in the Bahamas, but being here, I have access to what I need, like the experts in the field, the software to do the work. So here is more of the theoretical component. At home I was really good at self-guiding myself through the practical field work.”

Through her 3MT presentation, Ambrose explained her research but also challenged the audience to stop using single-use plastic items and illustrated how the waste that washes up on beaches may come from different countries, but ultimately the people of the Bahamas are responsible for cleaning it up.

“This research is important to me because it acts as an awareness tool for people in the country to know how our habits and the way that we use plastic impacts our ecosystems and our beaches but also the global efforts of the world,” says Ambrose. “Their waste is regurgitated on the beaches so we have to do something about it.”

Judging the presentations

The 3MT competition was hosted by Brett Ruskin of CBC Halifax, one of the sponsors of Dalhousie’s 200th anniversary celebrations. It was judged by MIT professor Erik Demaine, the youngest graduate in Dal history at the age of 14; Halifax Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas; and Kristan Hines, NATIONAL’s vice-president of public affairs.

All of the Dalhousie 3MT finalists.

Even the judges showed competitive flare at the mid-way point of the night, as well as after all 12 finalists presented.

“In the spirit of condensing, I tried to make one sentence to combine all the talks,” said Demaine after the first six presentations.

The result: preemie zombie batteries relearning to play cards in storms.

Not to be outdone, the poet on the panel utilized her craft before the judges deliberated a winner, with Thomas saying:

“They are trying for the monopoly on science ‘ologies,
They givers of facts, not apologies.
Broke grad students, they needs this.
Each trying to win the 3 Minute Thesis.”

In addition to Ambrose, additional winners on the night included Laura Hall, a graduate student in Psychology and Neuroscience. She finished second and won a $1,000 scholarship for her presentation showing how the old wives’ tale of “starving a fever” holds truth. Chemistry PhD student John Noël finished third, taking home a $500 scholarship for his presentation “Bringing the Heat: Materials for Thermal Energy Storage.”

Left-to-right: President Richard Florizone, first-place winner Kristal Ambrose, second-place winner Laura Hall, third-place winner John Noël, judge Kristan Hines, judge Rebecca Thomas, judge Erik Demaine.


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