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UC researchers turn theses into three-minute presentations for international competition

Katarina Slavich

5 September 2019: Some of the best and brightest researchers at the University of Canberra are preparing to present their 80,000-word research projects in just three minutes in front of a live audience and panel of judges.

The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) is an international competition for research students to showcase their research, with the University final on Thursday, 5 September.

Competitors must explain their research and convince the judges of its significance for a chance to win a part of the $3,500 prize pool, and a ticket to the 3MT Asia-Pacific final at the University of Queensland in October.

“The competition not only promotes the research but gives students the opportunity to develop their communication skills,” said Dr Fern Hyde, Researcher Development Specialist, Graduate Research at the University.

“The training program offered by Researcher Development leading up to the competition teaches researchers how to pitch their research to other people, in a way that’s easily understood.”

Presentation topics this year include whether upright posture or physical activity is associated with childhood intelligence, how the digital transformation age is impacting the Australian Public Service, and alternatives to antibiotics when treating cellulitis, a painful skin infection.

Research student in the Faculty of Science and Technology Keira Bai is looking at how using Artificial Intelligence could detect micro-expressions to indicate mental illness.      

“Micro-expressions, as the name suggests, are very mini expressions. It’s hard to detect with the naked eyes,” said Ms Bai.

“It could be used to detect depression in patients, but it’s too hard for doctors to observe their patients just with their eyes.”

In her research, Artificial Intelligence is used to increase the accuracy of micro-expression recognition, which may then detect depression in patients.

“People are able to lie in their expressions. For instance, they are able to simulate optimism, if someone is worried about them,” said Ms Bai.

The 3MT final will be held at the UC Theatre on Thursday, 5 September. Click here for tickets.

“We encourage everybody to come along to see the research that is being undertaken at the university, and support our researchers,” said Dr Hyde.

UC 3MT 2019 Finalists

Faculty of Science and Technology 


The global evolution of ‘The Digital Transformation Age’ for our future workforce across the Australian Public Service is overtaking the advancements of new and emerging technologies at a rapid pace.

Soft Skills v Digital Technologies; is this really the question? Or should we be complementing the two and connecting these in a collaborative approach, like a ‘hand in glove’!

Capability skills-gaps for digital roles like Robotic Process Automation require both technical and soft skills development. Julie Prater’s research will complement essential design and development in a collaborative approach with government, education and private industries to help close the gaps.

Faculty of Science and Technology


A micro-expression is a subtle, repressed and involuntary facial expression, which occurs when people try to conceal their true underlying emotions. However, observing micro-expressions is too difficult for the human eye, because of the short duration and too small movements. Currently, the recognition accuracy is only 47%, even for highly trained individuals.

Keira Bai’s research is trying to use Artificial Intelligence to help solve the mental health crisis. An automatic micro-expression recognition system will be more accurate, objective and responsive than human observers.

Faculty of Science and Technology


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are used worldwide today for a broad range of civil and military applications. There continues to be a growing demand for open-access drone datasets in a wide range of unmanned aircraft applications, for instant 3D mapping, traffic monitoring, vegetation monitoring and search and rescue.

However, a limited amount of published drone dataset has been found and they are mainly restricted to particular narrow tasks or scenarios. With the lack of open-source datasets in the search and rescue field, there is a unique opportunity and potential research gap to collect and analysis data from multiple sensors.

Faculty of Science and Technology


Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus is used in Australia as a biocontrol tool to reduce the population of European rabbits. Rabbits threaten native plant and animal species competing for feed and shelter. Successful biocontrol requires surveillance and the introduction of new viral strains. This virus encodes nine proteins in its genome and the functions of half of the proteins are unknown, because this virus does not grow in cell culture and therefore is a challenging studying object.

For Elena Smertina’s PhD project, she uses mass spectrometry-based proteomics approach to find out what effects viral proteins have on cells and hence deduce their functions.

Faculty of Education


Margaret Simpson’s research centres around inequalities in education and how these might be turned around, through studying isolated schools and their performance in the Victorian Certificate of Education.

Margaret is investigating how the community and the function come together to produce successful outcomes for their students. Margaret’s ultimate aim is to benefit children everywhere, not only children in rural areas but  children studying in cities, not only in Victoria but nationwide. Regardless of where a child starts in life, where they do their schooling, all children deserve an equal chance in life, that rural and metropolitan inequalities vanish.

Faculty of Health


Wayne Haynes’ research examines the relationships between physical activity, cognition, and elements of upright stance in primary school aged children. The ability to accurately predict the direction of gravity and to balance side to side on a rocking board were related to academic performance in NAPLAN reading, writing and numeracy and spatial cognition, but physical activity and physical fitness were not.

To explain these paradoxical findings, Mr Haynes draws on evolutionary theory. Human upright orientation and alignment have arboreal origins in the challenges human ancestors faced in negotiating the canopy of vast rainforests in East Africa 25 million years ago.

Faculty of Business, Government and Law


Complaining about Australian university education appears to be a national pastime, but nothing is improving. Through examining archival materials of 1988 and 2014, this research establishes a pattern of wants and needs for university education.

‘Wants’ of equity and access have remained unchanged for 30 years; the legislative and accreditation requirements placed on universities have met these wants. But ‘need’ – quality – is ignored in the behaviours of Government, universities and industry bodies. The findings of this research suggest ways to alter the debate to meet needs and wants to have a university education for the future of Australia.