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Quick-fire thesis challenge winners announced at UC event

10 August 2022

Stuttering, swallowing problems and the risk of landslides have emerged as the stand-out topics in a fast-paced University of Canterbury competition for postgraduate students.


The University of Canterbury 3MT winners with Vice-Chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey and Professor and Dean of Postgraduate Research Megan McAuliffe.

An international competition, Three Minute Thesis (3MT), challenges Masters and PhD students to sum up their research and pitch it to an audience in three minutes or less, using just one PowerPoint slide and their enthusiasm.

This year, all 15 University of Canterbury entries for the 3MT final were presented in pre-recorded video clips rather than being delivered in person. Four winners were announced at an event held at Haere-roa (UCSA Building) on campus last night.

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Eloïse Gooch, a PhD student from the UC Faculty of Science - Speech and Language Sciences was awarded first place and a $5000 prize for her entry, ‘The Puzzle of Stuttering in Parkinson’s Disease’ .

She was thrilled to win. “Being able to tell people more about my research and what I’m doing, and to spread awareness of the impact that it will hopefully have, is a great opportunity.”

Her thesis explores how changes in speech fluency could be linked to changes in movement and cognition in people with Parkinson’s disease, a diagnosis that Eloïse describes as “completely life-changing”. She is using MRI scans to study how changes in speech fluency are reflected in changes in the brain. 

Stuttering affects about 20 per cent of people with the disease and she is investigating the effects it has on their lives and how it changes over time as the disease progresses.

“Difficulty getting out the words you want to say can have a huge impact. It’s frustrating at the very least and can lead to social isolation.”

Masters student Jane McMecking, Faculty of Science – Disaster, Risk and Resilience, was the second-place winner taking a prize of $2000 for ‘Oh Dam! Modelling the Hazard and Risk of Landslide Dam Outburst Flooding on the West Coast’.

She has developed a model to help predict high risk zones where landslide dams, which can cause major flooding, could form on the West Coast of New Zealand.

She plans to work with local councils and Civil Defence to inform their evacuation plans and produce maps identifying where landslide dams and flooding could occur. “Hopefully my project will be able to save lives and improve things like evacuations during a disaster. These events can seem really, really scary but the more information we have around them and the more science we have the more we can help communities to enable them to become more resilient when something does happen,” she says.

Third place and a $1000 prize went to Shnece Duncan, a PhD student from the UC Business School – Economics, whose thesis explores ‘The Economics of Dysphagia’, a swallowing disorder that affects an estimated 75,000 New Zealanders.

There is very little data on the economic impact of the disorder, including the cost of medical treatment, reduced quality of life for patients and loss of income.

Shnece’s research aims to assess the needs of the future dysphagic population and the benefits of potential interventions and treatments.

Fathiya Al’Amri, a PhD student in the Faculty of Science – Speech and Language Sciences, won the People’s Choice Award based on audience votes for her presentation ‘Stuttering Therapy in Preschool Children’.

Professor Megan McAuliffe, Dean of Postgraduate Research, says the entertaining and informative presentations were a great showcase for the breadth and depth of post-graduate research happening at the University.

“3MT is a wonderful channel for students to share the work they’re doing and demonstrate how their research can lead change. Their curiosity, drive and enthusiasm for these topics is infectious. Participating in 3MT develops students’ ability to communicate the complexities of academic research in a manner accessible to the community. It’s a key skill for their future careers.”

Heats were carried out across the campus before last night’s event, which was sponsored by Research First. The judges were Research First Director of Research, Ann Thompson, along with UC Aotahi School of Māori and Indigenous Studies Professor Carl Te Hira Lewis Mika and UC Deputy Director of Research and Innovation, Rebecca Hurrell.

Eloïse Gooch, as the winning PhD student, will represent UC at the Asia-Pacific finals hosted by the University of Queensland in September and October. 

Jane McMecking, as the winning Masters student, will represent the University of Canterbury at the New Zealand Three Minute Thesis Finals at a virtual event hosted by the University of Auckland School of Graduate Studies on 8 September.

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