Exceptional performances from research students in Three-Minute Thesis

13 August 2021 | Students News

PhD student Minoo Mohajer’s three-minute research presentation about improving the yield and quality of wine has scooped the grand prize in Lincoln University’s recent Three-Minute Thesis grand final.

In second place was PhD student Kati Hewitt, whose research explores how to deal with pastoral insect pests in the face of climate change. And Priscilla Creppy took out the Masters prize for her presentation about helping rice farmers in Ghana to improve the marketability of their product.

3MT is an annual competition that challenges thesis students to describe their research to an intelligent but non-academic audience in only three minutes, using just one powerpoint slide.  It offers an excellent way to celebrate the diverse range of research projects carried out at Lincoln.

The competition was run slightly differently this year, as all contestants submitted pre-recorded videos instead of giving live presentations. This allowed for the participation of research students who could not be on campus due to travel restrictions or health concerns.

Three Lincoln University judges selected 10 finalists, whose video presentations were screened at the grand final last night on campus.

Minoo’s research suggests that striking a balance between the amount of fruit on a vine with the number of roots, chutes and leaves can boost the quality and yield of grapes.

"A balanced vine is important because on the one hand, you may have high yield but low grape and wine quality,” she said. “But what about the following years, after the vine has already used all the reserved carbohydrates in the roots and chutes?

"On the other hand, too many leaves can be detrimental to yield and result in poor quality grapes.

"If we remove leaves at the right time and with the right leaf position, this can improve yield and wine quality."

Minoo’s thesis is investigating the best conditions for undertaking leaf removal and will help farmers and winemakers to make more sustainable and cost-effective decisions.

As the grand final winner, she will represent Lincoln University at the 2021 Virtual Asia-Pacific 3MT Competition on Wednesday 27 September.

Kati’s research aims to future-proof integrated pest management strategies by investigating how challenging environmental conditions, such as drought, affect pasture insect pests.

"With climate change, the New Zealand pasture system will need to adapt to secure production in a more variable and often drier climate," she said. "One of the most important factors for pasture persistence and production is the presence of fungal Epichloë endophytes. 

"These endophytes live between the plant cells and can give grasses an advantage in certain challenging environments, for example, against herbivorous insects, which cause up to a $2.3b loss to the pastoral industry every year."

Kati’s thesis will improve knowledge on how pastures perform when exposed to resource limitations and insect feeding at the same time, a combination often seen in the farming world.  

Priscilla’s research proposes a joint venture model that would involve subsistence farmers in Ghana collaborating with strategy partners to improve the marketability of their rice.

The two entities would pool their resources, thereby improving the quality of rice that farmers produce and providing other advantages such as adequate post-harvest techniques and better packaging.

Importantly, she will canvas the farmers’ opinions of the business-oriented concept to explore their needs and preferences.

"Data analysed from this experiment will tell us the attributes farmers value and those that they do not,” she said. “This will be used to modify the model so that in future when it’s implemented, we’ll know that it will actually suit farmers’ preferences," she said.

As the top-placed Masters contestant, Priscilla will represent Lincoln University at the 2021 national 3MT Masters Inter-University Challenge on Friday 31 August.  

The judges were impressed with the exceptionally engaging style and high calibre of all the presentations, which showed the real-world implications of the students’ research.

PHOTO: Three-Minute Thesis grand prize winner Minoo Mohajer (left) and top-placed Masters contestant Priscilla Creppy.