Faculty of Science PhD student wins Three Minute Thesis competition

21 September 2011

Explaining your research thesis can be challenging at the best of times, so imagine having to do it in just 180 seconds to an audience who know nothing about your field.

The winner of the Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Sydney managed to do just that, convincing the audience and judges of the importance of her research on nutrition in intensive care patients.

Suzie Ferrie, a PhD student in the School of Molecular Bioscience, has won the University of Sydney's Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.
Suzie Ferrie, a PhD student in the School of Molecular Bioscience, has won the University of Sydney's Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Suzie Ferrie, a PhD student in the School of Molecular Bioscience, supervised by Associate Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli, competed against other University of Sydney postgraduate research students to win the final of the University's Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, held in September.

Suzie will travel to Perth next week to compete against postgraduate students from all over Australia and New Zealand in the Trans-Tasman finals.

Competitors in 3MT are challenged to give a three-minute rundown of their research projects. University of Sydney contestants covered topics as diverse as shark attacks, software infrastructure and meditation.

"One of the best parts of the competition was learning about all the interesting projects our researchers are working on. I was really inspired by all of the different things we're finding out and all the problems we're fixing," says Suzie.

As a dietitian in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Suzie was concerned about whether the right amount of nutrition formula was being given to patients and the inability of hospitals to accurately assess patients' nutritional progress. It was this gap in information that inspired her to take up her PhD research project at the University of Sydney.

"I rang all 182 ICUs in Australia and New Zealand to ask how they know they're feeding patients the right amount, and found that nobody actually knows for sure. Worldwide, the best practice is to make an estimate and wait until a problem arises before making any changes."

With patients' vital statistics monitored so closely in the ICU, nutrition can tend to come as a bit of an afterthought, Suzie says. However, if patients are not given enough nutrition, their wounds don't heal and they are more likely to pick up infections. If they are given too much they may have difficulty breathing.

By using data from biochemical tests that are commonly available and already routinely performed in hospitals, Suzie is developing a way of accurately measuring patients' response to nutrition. Because the data being used is from tests that already take place, her method can be used even in small hospitals.

Suzie hopes to have developed a usable tool by 2012, when she will begin conducting controlled trials.

The two runners-up of 3MT at the University were Ben Basger, who has drawn on his experiences as a pharmacist in Bondi to develop a better understanding of how we prescribe drugs to older people, and Danielle Merrett, who is analysing whether meditation helps us to make better decisions involving risk.

Suzie was awarded a prize of $1500 to travel to the Australia and New Zealand final at the University of Western Australia on 29 September, while the two runners-up received $500 each.

Founded in 2008, 3MT is designed to help early career researchers better communicate their research to the general public, regardless of their location and discipline.

The 'less is more' approach also helps contestants to crystallise their thoughts on their research projects.

Contact: Katynna Gill

Phone: 02 9351 6997

Email: 03392028222c547a04102e09073d2c543f2f1743351d3a1b2819