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April 21, 2017
NIEHS Trainees Excel in 3-Minute Talk Challenge

From left, Tammy Collins congratulated winners Lee Langer, David Scoville and Priya Jayaraman on their presentations. “They were outstanding,” she said.
From left, Tammy Collins congratulated winners Lee Langer, David Scoville and Priya Jayaraman on their presentations. “They were outstanding,” she said.

For the second year in a row, 15 NIEHS and National Toxicology Program trainees accepted the challenge to distill their biomedical research into a 3-minute talk, using language that a general audience would understand. In keeping with that theme, the participants were judged by a panel of five volunteers from across the institute that included only one scientist.

The audience cheered the high-energy and often fascinating presentations, which provided glimpses into a range of biomedical research topics, cutting-edge techniques and effects on public health.

Three winners were chosen; each will receive a travel award to attend the conference of her or his choice. They are Lee Langer, chromatin and gene expression group, Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory; Priya Jayaraman, immunogenetics group, Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory (IIDL); and David Scoville, cell biology group, IIDL.

Timer Dr. Gary Bird kept the event running efficiently by raising warning cards as the minutes wound down.
Timer Dr. Gary Bird kept the event running efficiently by raising warning cards as the minutes wound down.

PHOTOS: STEVE MCCAW

“It was great to see so many take advantage of this opportunity to polish an important skill that doesn’t always get the attention it should,” said Tammy Collins, director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows Career Development. “By that, I mean explaining to a lay audience the nature and importance of their research. In an age of social media, there are lots of ways to spread the word about environmental health research and it is critical to give people information they can understand.”

The challenge was framed as a simple question that might be asked by a relative, neighbor or new acquaintance: “So, what type of research do you work on?” Combine that with two more topics competitors were asked to address—the broader impact on society and what the presenter has gained personally from the experience—and the challenge might well seem impossible.

“At only 3 minutes in length, these talks challenged the speakers to tackle the meat of why their research matters, while at the same time pressing them to explain that in a way that doesn’t require a Ph.D. to understand,” said Ian Thomas of the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, who served as a judge.

Some contenders spoke without notes and many opened with an attention-grabbing hook. Thomas praised the level of competition. “Picking three winners out of the 15 who presented was a real challenge,” he said. “All of the talks were wonderful, and in the end, the three we chose were separated from the rest by a points margin that was barely in the single digits. That’s how tight these folks were. They were really, really impressive.”—Kelly Lenox

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