So you think you can explain your research in three minutes?


Students working on ecology, evolution, and conservation from IISc and other institutions in Bangalore came together for a competition to promote student interaction


PhD students are accustomed to giving long presentations. But there are occasions when one is expected to sum up years of work in a short span, sometimes in just a few minutes. On 31 August 2017, an event called Student Presentations on Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation (SPEEC UP) held at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) challenged students from various ecology and conservation research institutes in Bangalore to present their work in three minutes.

The event was conceived not just to encourage participants to discuss their work in a short period, but also to promote interactions among them

The event was conceived not just to encourage participants to discuss their work in a short period, but also to promote interactions among them. One of the organisers of the event, Geetha Ramaswamy, said, “A group of people from the different supporting institutions based in Bangalore — NCBS, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Dakshin Foundation) — got together and brainstormed on ways in which the collaborative spirit between these institutions can be fostered.”

Kartik Shanker, Associate Professor, CES, IISc, and Director, ATREE, addressing the gathering (Photo: Rohini Krishnamurthy)

While the first half of the competition was devoted to presentations on ecology and evolution, the latter half focussed on presentations dealing with topics on conservation. A total of 24 students took part in the event. Most presentations had a pattern: they began by stating a hypothesis followed by methods adopted to arrive at an answer. There was no shortage of wit and creativity as many participants attempted to make their presentations more engaging to the audience.

For instance, Trisha Gupta from Dakshin Foundation, who also bagged the first prize in the conservation category, captured the attention of the gathering by asking a poignant question: do conservation efforts have side-effects? Turns out that sometimes well-meaning conservation practices can have unintended consequences. In her presentation, she used the example of a sea bird called black-backed gull. These birds were once feasting on unwanted fish discarded by fisherman. To curtail wastage of resources, the EU banned this practice of discard, forcing these birds to steal junk food from humans. Gupta discovered that these birds were fatter and less healthy which in turn has had negative repercussions on their fitness.

Several other presentations were made — from what make termites such good architects to peer- pressure influencing behaviour in honeybees to how ecotourism in Rushikulya, an Olive Riddley conservation site, is affecting the lives of local inhabitants.

Open discussions (Photo: Rohini Krishnamurthy)

Kruttika Phalnikar, a PhD student from NCBS, revealed why she thought SPEEC UP was such a challenging, yet an enriching, experience for her. “It is tough to convey a story that makes sense in three minutes while also keeping it simple for a layman to understand. This is helpful when we meet someone and are asked to talk about our research in a very limited amount of time. On the whole, it was a fun exercise.”

“Sometimes we get exhausted listening to two or three long talks, in such cases, short presentations are effective and it also helps us understand what others are working on,” she added.

At the end of each session, students were encouraged to engage in discussions with fellow participants. This provided the judges an opportunity to pick the winners. Presentations were judged based on creativity, clarity and the content. Judges from the ecology and evolution session were Maria Thaker from IISc, Devcharan Jathanna from Wildlife Conservation Society, India and Jayashree Ratnam from NCBS while topics pertaining to conservation were judged by Rohit Naniwadekar from Nature Conservation Foundation, Abi Tamim Vanak from ATREE, Madhuri Ramesh from ATREE/Dakshin Foundation.

The winners from both categories (Photo courtesy: SPEEC UP)

After the open discussion, winners were announced. In the Ecology and Evolution category, Viraj Torsekar (CES, IISc) bagged the first place and second place was jointly awarded Aparna Agarwal (NCBS) and Vignesh Venkateswaran (CES, IISc). And in the Conservation category, Trisha Gupta (Dakshin Foundation) walked away with first prize, while Aniruddha Marathe (ATREE) and Chetan Rao (Dakshin Foundation) won the second and third prizes.


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