When Laura Hall took home a second-place prize in Dalhousie’s 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) finals in early March, the Psychology and Neuroscience graduate student celebrated with friends and family, thinking her time in the spotlight was up.
But as the Eastern Regional 3MT competition quickly approached, Hall received notice that first-place winner, Kristal Ambrose, would not be able to attend the competition at McGill University on April 18. She was floored when she was called on to represent Dalhousie at the prestigious event.
“I was unbelievably excited,” she says. “I had been given this opportunity to [compete] on an even larger scale, and I was just so thrilled.”
She was even more thrilled when she achieved a first-place finish at the regionals, thereby securing a spot in the 3MT National Finals that kicked off Tuesday (May 22).
She doesn’t have to travel this time: the finals are digital, with a video of Hall’s winning speech from regionals available for viewing alongside the other finalists from across Canada. The winner will be selected by a panel of three judges, and there is also a people’s choice winner based on public voting, which is now open.
The winning speaker will be announced in the first week of June.
Understanding illness and appetite
Hall says her research on Illness-Induced Anorexia stems from her desire to better understand why humans and animals don’t eat when they contract an illness.
“When you get sick, you lose your appetite, it’s a basic principle… you should be wanting to eat more because you’re expending your energy but that is not the case.”
Through rigorous research and a number of studies, she was able to conclude that the phenomenon occurs throughout the entire animal kingdom — from bugs to humans. She says eating food increases the risk of encountering harmful toxins, which can be especially dangerous when the immune system has already been weakened by illness.
“By not eating, you’re completely eliminating your exposure to [toxins]. At a time when you’re already very vulnerable, decreasing your exposure to bad things can be good.”
Pathway to a first-place finish
During the Dal finals, Hall remembers standing before over 250 people to present her research with both fear and excitement flowing through her veins. She emerged as the runner-up with a $1,000 scholarship to boot.
When it came time to prepare for regionals, she was able to do so with the added support of students and faculty from Dalhousie’s Fountain School of Performing Arts. They coached her on stage presence and provided her with valuable performance tips.
“They took me under their wing and worked with me,” she says. “They took the time to teach me about stage presence and different ways that I could present my already-written thesis with enunciation, when to pause, and where to look.”
For Hall, one of the more challenging aspects of her presentation was the 3MT rule that competitors are not allowed to “dumb down” their topics. Three minutes leaves very little time to explain complex theories and terms. Evidently, this rule did not stand in the way between Hall and the first-place prize as she remained calm and gave a detailed yet comprehensible presentation.
“I would say I learned a lot about how to communicate complicated things in a much less complicated way. I tried to, rather than include jargon, describe what I was doing,” she says, reflecting on her winning presentation.
An educational highlight
Hall is grateful for the opportunity she has been given and will use this experience to one day set up her own research lab.
“It’s still one of the greatest things so far in my degree.”
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