24 July 2012

Each year the Faculty Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Challenge provides an opportunity for higher degree by research students to communicate their research to a wider, non expert audience. It is designed to develop the relevant communication skills needed to effectively communicate research in engaging and appropriate language suitable for non-specialist listeners.

The Faculty of Agriculture and Environment held its second 3MT competition on Tuesday 17 July 2012 as the final session in the annual Faculty Research Symposium: SOIL SECURITY. An audience of more than 200 including staff, students, alumni and friends, and external business / industry representatives watched seven presentations spanning topics such as the effect of smoke on plants, improving heat tolerance in chickpeas, the environmental and economic trade-offs in shrimp farming and eucalyptus adaptation to climate change. This emerging research has the capacity to impact upon the most pressing issues in society, and even change the way we live, and again proved a popular element of research day.


The goal of the competition is to assist research students to develop academic research and communications skills. Competitors were judged on communication style, comprehension / clarity and engagement. The challenge was to take complex research and communicate it in an engaging fashion that a non-specialist audience can understand. Only one static power point slide was allowed. Presentations were restricted to three minutes or less.

The winner received $500, the runner-up $250, and the winner of the People's Choice Award (voted by the audience) $375.

Faculty Finalists:

1. Vicky Aerts

Do plants suffer from smoker's cough?

2. Waqar Ahmad

Fate of native and applied lime in Australian agricultural systems

3. Viola Devasirvatham

Improving heat tolerance in chickpea

4. Yunying Fang

Can biochar mitigate climate change through soil carbon sequestration?

5. Mana Gharun

Tree-mendously thirsty? Ecohydrology of eucalypt forests

6. Marco Harbusch

Climate change! Will eucalyptus lose their heads?

7. Hasneen Jahan

Money or mangroves: environmental and economic trade-offs in shrimp farming

Professor Alex McBratney and Dr Damien Field with the 7 Faculty 3MT Finalists
Professor Alex McBratney and Dr Damien Field with the 7 Faculty 3MT Finalists

Judging Panel

The judging panel was made up of three alumni from diverse career paths:

Dr Alison Anderson
University medallist Dr Alison Anderson graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 1992, followed by a PhD in the Department of Agricultural Chemistry and
Soil Science in1997. Alison's current role is Portfolio Manager - Industry Development, Horticulture Australia Limited.

Dr David R. Leece, PSM, RFD, ED
Dr David Leece is a former executive director and chief scientist of the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority and chairman of the Radiation Advisory Council of New South Wales. He is an author, board member of the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, and contributor to Agricultural Science (Journal of AIAST). David graduated with a Master of Agriculture in 1968.

Phil Mulvey
Phil graduated with a degree in Soil Science in 1981, and a Master in Hydrogeology from UNSW in 1985. He is the CEO, Managing Director, Principal Soil Scientist and Contaminant Hydrologist with Environmental Earth Sciences, an international consultancy company with more than 100 staff worldwide. Phil was the 2011 recipient of the Faculty Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement.

2012 Winners

In what was a closely fought competition Iranian-born international student Ms Mana Gharun was awarded first place by the judging panel for her speech titled - "Tree-mendously thirsty?Ecohydrology of eucalypt forests". Mana was also successful in winning the People's Choice Award with a resounding 44% of the vote. The judges' runner -up was Ms Vicky Aerts who spoke about the effect of smoke on plants - "Do plants suffer from smoker's cough?"

Faculty 3MT winner Mana Gharun with the Judging Panel members
Faculty 3MT winner Mana Gharun with the Judging Panel members

Mana's first taste of the University of Sydney was during an internship at CSIRO. Her collaborations with Sydney researchers influenced her decision to follow her Masters studies at the University of Freiburg in Germany with a PhD in The Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. Her undergraduate degree is in Water Engineering from the University of Tehran, and her Masters is in Forest Ecology and Management.

"During our PhD we constantly challenged to communicate our research to a non-specialist audience within society.We get the "so what's it again that you're doing, and why should we care?" question all the time. The 3MT certainly helped me find an efficient structure for delivering my research elements to an audience with a broad range of backgrounds. The Faculty staff provided us with excellent support,andpassionatelyhelped us prepare for this challenge", she said.

Her advice for future competitors and fellow PhD students is to bring out the story-teller side of yourself and not get too distracted by the formalities. After all who doesn't enjoy listening to a good story?

Mana plans to carry on with research and teaching post-PhD as it has been a childhood dream of hers to transfer what she has learnt to others.

Other competitors agreed that the 3MT had been a great opportunity for audiences to learn about the Faculty's emerging research projects in an engaging and effective way.

Contact: Ms Skaidy Gulbis

Phone: 02 8627 1006

Email: 385f04250b2c600e1e352946193a07565605020e631d324148042c