Christina Hueschen: A Three Minute Thesis Rock Star


Christina Hueschen with our SciComm Class

Christina Hueschen is a Ph.D student in the Dumont lab at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Her research focuses on the cellular mechanisms that ensure proper chromosome segregation during cell division. In 2017, she participated in the University of California Grad Slam. This is an annual competition where graduate students, across all UC campuses, talk about their research. The goal is to present their research in a way that is engaging for all audiences. But the kicker is that they have to do this all within 3 minutes, which is why these talks are also known as 3 minute thesis talks or 3MT for short. Christina unfortunately didn’t win the competition. But she did win the local competition at UCSF, which is still a great honor. With her first hand experience at developing a 3MT, she was asked to come and speak to our Science Communications (SciComm) class at San Francisco State University (SFSU).

One of the requirements for our SciComm course, is for each of us to create a 3MT video and post it on YouTube. A successful 3MT video communicates scientific research in a way that is both entertaining and informative. These qualities are the pillars of good SciComm. Thus in accomplishing this assignment, we have begun to develop the skills necessary for good science communication. Christina used her experience to guide us as we began to create our own 3 minute thesis talks. She gave us a “blueprint” on the things that should be included. The 1st thing is to address the research topic we are studying (climate change, cell division, genetics, development, etc). She explained that we should give a “big picture story” to help the audience understand the significance of our research (i.e. answering the “why do I need to care” question). Then we can describe the problem or puzzle that our research is attempting to address. This should be followed by the approach that we will use to answer the problem or puzzle. Some of the students in our class are just starting out in their research. Therefore, they didn’t necessarily have their approach mapped out. So, Christina advised that they talk about the overarching question(s) that their research is trying to answer. She also said that they should address the important findings that led up to their research project, and what they hope to discover. Next, she said that we should include what we can do with this discovery, again addressing why the audience should care about our research. Then we should finish the video by referring back to our “big picture”. In following Christina’s “blueprint”, we hope that individuals who watch our 3MT videos, will not only be able to understand the importance of our research, but also find our research to be exciting.

Another component of a 3MT talk is to provide a visual that is displayed behind the speaker during their presentation. Christina also provided helpful tips on how to make the most effective visual. She told us that a visual should contain imagery that is easily recognizable to all audiences. It also is more effective to use the image of a single object to send one clear message. This should be the same message that the speaker is using as their “big picture” concept.

Aside from the format and the content needed to be included in a 3MT video, Christina also emphasized ways for us to engage our audience. As scientists, we tend to forget that people have different scientific backgrounds. Some may find science to be intimidating or only open to an exclusive group. This may lead to less people being interested in science as well as a lack of trust towards scientists. Three minute thesis talks are a great way to address this issue. It is important that we recognize that it is possible for us to bring our science to the public. The key is to be concise, relatable, and relevant. Christina told us to refer to everyday objects as analogies to describe our research. If done effectively, our audience will be able to visualize us in the lab working on our research. She also recommended that we present our research with a spark of genuine excitement to evoke similar emotions from our audience. The more our audiences’ senses are engaged during our 3MT video, the more likely they will remember the video. They also will be more likely to learn something about our research and its significance. If we are able to get them excited about our research, then maybe they will talk about our research with their friends and family. Thereby establishing a conversation about science that hopefully will continue; changing the way the public views science.

On a personal note, Christina’s advice really helped us with the development of our own 3MT videos. We were able to pinpoint the “big picture” for each of our research projects. Both of us were able to identify key findings from previous studies and the questions that still needed to be addressed. This helped us demonstrate why our projects are important and why society should care about our research. The tough part was to avoid the use of jargon: heavy scientific terms. To do this, we really had to remember what it was like when we first began taking science classes in middle and high school. Now, as graduate students, we possess a great deal of knowledge, especially information on our research topic. Many of us may not even realize how far we have come since our middle and high school days. So, developing our 3MT videos was a slow process; fraught with difficulties. However, in the end, using Christina’s advice, we were able to create presentations that people with both biology and non-biology backgrounds would understand and find interesting. We are very proud of our accomplishments; and hope these presentations create a lasting impact.