It may have taken him a while to get there, but it was worth the wait for Dr. Olatunji Anthony Akerele.
The recent PhD (biochemistry) graduate won first place in the 2020 Eastern Regional Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition hosted by Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia.
Dr. Akerele was also honoured with the People’s Choice award for his presentation, Omega-3 Intake During Pregnancy: Finding the Perfect Maternal Diet for Brain Health.
The 3MT is a research communication competition where students have three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis and its significance.
It is not an exercise in trivializing or “dumbing down” research, but challenges students to consolidate their ideas and research discoveries so they can be presented concisely to a non-specialist audience.
Road to the regionals
Dr. Akerele originally competed in, and won, Memorial’s fall 2018 Faculty of Science 3MT competition.
He then went on to the School of Graduate Studies university-wide competition, but didn’t place. Not to be deterred, he tried again in 2019. He took home the top prize.
Usually, the university’s first place winner is eligible to take part in the regional competition. But, by spring 2020, the world had become embroiled in a pandemic.
“I was supposed to travel to Halifax for the competition, but of course that didn’t happen,” he said. “They were trying to find another way to get it done, and it took forever, but finally last week we did it virtually.
“The experience was actually a good one, considering it was the only way possible to do it at this time, so we made lemonade out of our lemons.”
Learning and improving
Prior to competing in the regional competition, Dr. Akerele gained additional practice by taking part in the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) 3MT competition in December.
NAGS includes member universities from eastern Canada the eastern United States.
“That was a great competition, as well,” he said. “We put the judges in a very tight spot, but someone had to win. This time it wasn’t me. However, I see every moment as an opportunity to learn and improve for the next challenge and I saw things from my colleagues that I could use to improve myself.
“It also showed me that it doesn’t matter if one competition doesn’t go well,” he added. “You can still come from behind and overtake the next one.”
Developing relevant skills
Julie Bowering is the career development co-ordinator for graduate studies and co-ordinates the SGS 3MT competition at Memorial. She says participating helps students develop relevant skills.
“Having that experience, and being able to relate your work to society, is what makes this competition so important,” Ms. Bowering said.
“Because the prize for winning our competition is usually an all-expenses paid trip to the eastern regional competition, instead we recently presented Dr. Akerele with a cash prize of $1,000. We were delighted to be able to do that for him.”
She hopes the university will soon know what the plans are for the national 3MT competition.
In the meantime, Dr. Akerele is grateful to his lab for encouraging him in these opportunities to “push his boundaries.”
“The support from Dr. Sukhinder Kaur Cheema, my supervisor, was massive,” he said. “The School of Graduate Studies was also very supportive and provided me with a wonderful coach, Dr. Peggy Coady from the Faculty of Business Administration. Once you scale through the university competition, from then on you are representing the university, so they want you to do well.”
Dr. Akerele also recently became a Canadian citizen in a virtual ceremony on Jan. 27.
“It was an exciting moment for me and my family,” he said. “This means we can officially call Canada our home and avail of rights that are not available to permanent residents, like voting in an election.”