3 Minutes to Change the World

From left: Kartik Sameer Madiraju, Lysanne Rivard, Feng Qi, Marie Senecal-Tremblay, Saoussan Askar, Laura-Isobel McCall, Alexandra Fletcher, Sebastien Boridy, Dianah Msipa, and Janelle Marie Baker

When I first heard of the event hosted by McGill called “3 minutes to change the world”, I thought it was a snazzy title for a speed-talk event. While it was indeed centered upon three-minute presentations by students from seven different faculties at McGill, changing the world was not the exaggeration I had presumed it to be. This year’s event hosted 10 fantastic speakers who are undertaking massive, world-changing endeavors in their respective fields of research. From seeking answers to cure disease to finding cleaner, greener solutions, this group at once made me proud to be a McGillian and astounded by the calibre of research undertaken by young professionals. 

4 speakers mentally preparing just minutes before the event

The event brought together students, faculty members, administration, community members and media in an attempt to do what any PhD student must think impossible – discuss your research and findings, using totally accessible language, in 3 minutes flat. Despite the challenge posed by this task, the presenters surmounted expectations and delivered eloquent and thought-provoking glimpses into their fields. Some, like Sebastien Boridy, were able to distill complex topics, like the utility of nanoparticles to treat brain disorders, into comprehensible units of information. Others expressed their desire to close the gap produced by gender inequality, both in the workplace (Marie Senècal-Tremblay) and at school (Lysanne Rivard). Yet others shared their research and personal voyages into understanding how different socio-cultural groups perceived influential topics in today’s global society, like HIV (Saoussan Askar) and Alberta’s tar sands (Janelle Marie Baker).

The group was selected from among a large pool of applicants by a panel of fellow graduate students, undergraduates, administration, and faculty. Finding a place among their prestigious ranks was therefore no small order- they were the cream of McGill’s crop. And it showed. Not only did each participant have a glowing research programme, but all also had impressive hobbies, including lots of volunteer work, lectureships, and community projects.

Above all, the event emphasised interdisciplinary communication, showcasing a disparate group of researchers and allowing opportunity for everyone to ask questions. There was a short question period after all 10 talks, but the real conversations occurred during lunch, when you could meet the speakers one-on-one and have a conversation. It was a great opportunity to get to know individuals outside your field, learn about topics you had little experience with, and witness the passion that drives these individuals.

Janelle Marie Baker, content after a very successful speech

Underlying the event was the idea of an “elevator speech” – a quick but accurate oral essay on your research, deliverable in about the same length of time as an elevator ride. Any graduate student should have an elevator speech. Many of us will publish things that garner media interest, or perhaps we simply have some non-academic friends and relatives. In any case, being able to clearly articulate your research without overwhelming your audience with domain-specific jargon is a task worthy of its effort. Clearly, this years’ presenters have developed a laudable elevator speech.

The moderator of the event, Dr. Christopher Barrett, introduced this year’s event with a quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. During the event, I believe I witnessed the calibre of individuals that are up to this task. Many of them are tackling enormous problems that have the potential to provide the infrastructure and answers that will make our future a brighter one.

If you missed the event but want to see it, you can stream it here.

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