Q&A With PhD Student Sydney Morgan on the 3MT Regionals and Translating Her Research for her Dad

Comp Sci

Sydney Morgan (front row, second from right) poses with fellow competitors at the University of Regina.

Last month, biology PhD student Sydney Morgan was in Regina representing UBC Okanagan at the Western Regionals of the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Sydney— a student of UBCO since she was an undergrad— has won past accolades for her research into the effects of sulfur dioxide concentration on wine yeasts. This was an entirely different challenge for her, however, as the 3MT format forces competitors to explain their research in a short speech, relatable to a general audience.

We caught up with Sydney back in Kelowna to ask her about the experience.


How did it go?

It was a really great experience. The University of Regina was really welcoming. There was a lot of support from the faculty and the organizers. The competitors were really friendly and supporting of each other, which I thought made it a great environment to be in.

Why did you decide to take this on?

The 3MT competition is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time, but for the last three years of my PhD, I’ve either been out of the country or it didn’t work with my teaching schedule.

This year I made sure I was going to be available for the heats (local competition) and the regionals because I think it’s really important that researchers are not only able to talk to people in their own field, but able to translate their work into information that is accessible to the general public. That’s what we are really in this for, not just to advance our own field, but to help our society grow and learn. This competition provides the perfect opportunity to practice doing that.

How difficult is it to go from being immersed in the “grad” world and then trying to translate your research for a general audience?

This is definitely something I’ve struggled with in the past. I have a lot of friends and family who aren’t in the academic field. For the last few years I’ve been trying to explain what I’m doing, but I end up stripping away the essence of my research and not really doing a good job of it, so this competition was really challenging for me but really worthwhile. I sent the (live-feed) link to my parents so they could watch me speaking from Regina. My dad said this was the first time he really understood what my research was about, which was great.

What was your process like in preparing for this?

The Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences and the College of Graduate Studies were both a huge help, offering faculty-led practice sessions in the lead-up to the heats and the regionals. Professors and coaches were available throughout to help with advice and help move me in the right direction. Fred Menard (chemistry) and Christine Schreyer (anthropology) in particular really helped me hone my speech into what it would become.

There were also three other competitors who consistently showed up to the practice sessions and were invaluable to helping me prepare. Even though we were technically competitors, we wanted each other to do well and to give the best speech possible.

Hardest Part?

Being able to balance not using technical terms, but also not “dumbing” down my research and assuming that people who are listening are not going to understand the concepts. In other words, walking that fine line, but also not talking down to the people I was presenting to.

Any advice for future competitors?

Be comfortable with yourself and your research. Practice is important, but really make sure your enthusiasm for your subject matter shines through. That’s the most important part of communicating your research to the general public. You’ve got to get excited about your research first!


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