After an hour of intense competition amongst ten finalists, Yu-Ting (Jennifer) Hung from JCSMR locked the victory at the 2022 ANU Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Final on September 1st.
She has been awarded a $4,000 research support grant and will represent ANU to compete in the Asia-Pacific 3MT Final.
A second-year PhD student in the RNA Biology Group, Jennifer investigates how the shape of small molecules called mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) influences the process of protein synthesis.
The first 3MT finalist to present in front of a live audience in three years, she spoke about how mRNAs are like race tracks hidden inside our cells and how a deeper understanding of these ‘race tracks‘ could help avoid the next pandemic.
To everyone‘s surprise, however, the microphone failed to work.
“When I started, I thought I sounded a bit funny, and the usual echo wasn’t there,” recalled Jennifer, “but since there hadn’t been any problems with the introductions, I thought it might’ve been just in my head or from the nervousness.”
But she soon noticed the panicked looks in the audience and the tech staff frantically trying to fix something.
“I figured it was too late to stop, so I just tried to shout, project a bit louder and hope for the best.”
Finally, around halfway through her presentation, the sound came back on.
But at this point, she was already “on autopilot” as she put it.
“I don’t think anything short of an evacuation alarm would’ve been able to stop me finishing it,” she said.
Jennifer Hung was the first presenter at the 2022 ANU 3MT final. Image: Calo Huang
For fairness of the competition, the organisers of the 3MT Final later decided to let Jennifer do a re-run following the last contestant’s presentation.
Welcomed back to the stage with cheer, Jennifer stepped up to fascinate the audience again.
“I was a bit tired, and all I wanted to do was to sit down and eat. Being able to relax for the rest of the night was exactly why I was happy to go first!” said Jennifer.
But knowing how it would feel on the stage, she felt much less nervous and delivered her talk with ease. The audience responded to her performance with rousing applause.
Still, Jennifer found the fact that she won the competition very surprising.
“All the talks were amazing,” she remarked, “I had been hearing them change and improve throughout the training, and I genuinely thought they were all great.”
The live stream of Jennifer’s second presentation. Video: ANU TV
For the upcoming 2022 Virtual Asia-Pacific 3MT Competition, Jennifer needs to submit a video of her 3MT by September 16th.
Amongst all video submissions from across Australia, New Zealand, Oceania, North-East Asia and South-East Asia, only eight will be selected for the final contest.
Previously, ANU had one winner of the Asia-Pacific 3MT Final—Joshua Chu-Tan, also from JCSMR, won the 2016 Final.
Jennifer reckoned that presenting to the camera might be harder than speaking to an audience.
“Knowing the layout of the audience does make a huge difference when you are planning things like gestures and eye contact. You also get immediate feedback and energy from the audience when it’s live.”
She will need to figure out a way to adapt her approach for a video submission.
“One upside is that while practising, I recorded myself at least 20 times—so at least that part will be familiar! “