SFWS students participate in Auburn’s Three Minute Thesis competition



Andrea Cole-Wahl, shown with Maj. Prof. Lori Eckhardt and Dean Alavalapati was awarded People's Choice during the competition.

Andrea Cole-Wahl, shown with Maj. Prof. Lori Eckhardt and Dean Alavalapati was awarded People’s Choice during the competition.

Auburn University held its 2016 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition Friday, Nov. 18 at the auditorium of The Hotel at Auburn University & Dixon Conference Center.

The finalists are the top competitors from a series of preliminaries held Oct. 25 and 26. Of the eleven chosen, three School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences graduate students competed, including: Andrea Cole-Wahl (Maj. Prof. Lori Eckhardt), Yecheng Xu (Maj. Prof. Yaoqi Zhang), and Marissa Jo Daniel (Maj. Prof. Tom Gallagher).

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland. The exercise challenges graduate students to present a compelling oration on their thesis or dissertation topic and its significance in just three minutes. 3MT develops academic, presentation, and research communication skills and supports the development of research students’ capacity to effectively explain their research in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.

Andrea Cole-Wahl, a forestry graduate student, presented her research on the project, Could Sirex Woodwasps be a threat to Alabama Forest Health? Sirex noctilio is a woodwasp that is an invasive pest that causes devastating economic losses in areas that it has been introduced. This pest was discovered in New York in 2004, and has since been moving south through natural and planted pine forests.

“My thesis focuses on a survey to determine what woodwasps are in the state of Alabama, and how the wasps, along with their symbiotic fungi, would affect forest health in Southeastern pine stands,” said Cole-Wahl. “I also studied how the associated fungus would compete with native fungi, and how the growth rates of these fungi would be affected by pines commonly found in the Southeast,” she noted.

“It is not every day that I can get people interested about hearing about wasps, and I am appreciative that I get to share my thesis work with a broader audience through the 3MT competition,” said Cole-Wahl.

Yecheng Xu’s presentation topic, Herders’ Livelihood on Mongolia Plateau, explores how the loss of mobility associated with nomadism in Inner Mongolia, now regarded as a major cause for grassland degradation, has impacted the vulnerability and resilience of this society. Xu, a forest economics and management graduate student, chose Inner Mongolia as a case study to demonstrate how “new mobility” may change the sustainability of animal husbandry.

His research argues that mobility should be redefined with changing transportation. “Traditional nomadic life built upon mobility cannot possibly face the challenges of population increases or take advantage of new mobility, which has been generated by new technologies, emerging markets and institutions, said Xu. “My research will demonstrate how new mobility can make capital, labor, and livestock products more mobile and cost efficient to transport.”

“We become qualified researchers within our graduate programs, but the 3MT competition is one of the best opportunities to practice presentation skills to effectively allow the public to quickly and easily understand our work,” said Xu. “I am honored to introduce myself and my research work to colleagues and friends.”

Marissa Jo Daniel, a forest operations doctoral candidate, presented the results of her study, Utilization of Phone Application Technology to Record Log Truck Movements in the Southeastern U.S. Delays incurred by loggers hauling wood from the landing to the mill affect profitability and have the potential to make harvesting some areas unfeasible.

According to Daniel, past studies have been conducted to determine the delay time a driver may have at the mill but very little research has been conducted to analyze the drivers wait time at the landing in the woods or the cause of delays a driver may encounter while driving from one location to another.

In order to accurately gather information concerning delay times at the mill, the landing and during travel to and from each location, Daniel created a phone app that would record the driver’s location using GPS as well as an alert which allowed the driver to comment and record the reasons for any delays. From this app, Daniel was able to gather details in real time regarding the delays and as a result, was therefore better able to deduce economic efficiency.

Daniel’s project was funded through the Wood Supply Research Institute. Her preliminary research was conducted in the states of Alabama, Ohio and South Carolina with intentions of expanding it to other portions of the United States.

Through their participation in the 3MT competition, each of the students has gained a greater appreciation for the ability to communicate their research to a general audience. For Daniel, it was reminiscent of another competition.

“I am reminded of a lesson I learned in high school when I was required to recite the FFA Creed at our District competition,” said Daniel. “If we do not believe in the words we speak, and show our belief with the passion we display in those words, why should we expect another to take heart and adhere to it themselves?”

SFWS doctoral student Hamed Majidzadeh also participated as an exhibition presenter with his research, Soil Carbon Dynamics beneath Impervious Surfaces.

Auburn University’s 3MT competition is held each fall. To determine who competes in the 3MT, a preliminary competition is held and the top 10 competitors advance to the university-wide final and compete for cash prizes. Auburn’s winner will advance to represent the university in the regional 3MT competitions.

SFWS forestry graduate student Andrea Wahl-Cole was awarded the People’s Choice; Drug Discovery and Development student, Madison Chandler, took 1st Place; and Chemical Engineering student, Yuan Tian, was awarded 2nd Place.





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