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Postgraduate research celebrated at 2022 Doctoral College Showcase


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The impact prison conditions have on those incarcerated and how data visualisation could boost energy efficiency were just two of the diverse topics shared by postgraduate researchers at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s 2022 Doctoral College Showcase.

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DMU 3MT winner Jessica Gallagher

The annual event, which ran as a hybrid format for the first time this year, invites PhD students to present their research to non-specialist audiences in engaging ways and demonstrate their passion for their subject.

Hosted at the Venue@DMU and opened by Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Heather McLaughlin, this year’s showcase welcomed 24 research degree students who were asked to deliver either a 10-minute or three-minute presentation explaining their work.

The three-minute presentations were part of the national 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) contest, which challenges postgraduates from universities around the UK to explain their thesis in just three minutes to an audience of non-academics – for comparison, the average 80,000-word thesis would take nine hours to present!

A judging panel, including senior researchers from DMU and guests from across the city, reviewed all of the presentations to determine who delivered outstanding talks.

Third-year PhD student and DMU Law graduate Jessica Gallagher, supervised by Professor Gavin Dingwall, secured the top prize for her 3MT, which focused on the issue of self-harm and suicide in prisons.

“My research shows that the cause of self-harm and suicide in prisons is often environmental,” she said. “Prisons can be very distressing places and there is often deprivation – we know that prisons can be understaffed and overcrowded, and that conditions can be quite bad.

“When someone is subjected to this kind of environment, and especially if they already have existing mental health conditions, it is easy to see how things can take a turn for the worse.

“The aim of my research is to find solutions to lower the number of self-harm incidents and suicides in UK prisons. I conduct interviews with prison staff to make sure the solutions I suggest are realistic and practical.”

For her 3MT, for which presenters are only allowed to use one visual aid, Jessica shared a photograph of St James’ Park – Newcastle United Football Club’s stadium.

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Jessica delivers her Three Minute Thesis

“St James’ Park has a capacity of 52,400,” she explained. “In 2021, the number of self-harm cases in prisons in England and Wales was 52,700. I wanted the audience to be able to visualise just how many people this affects and this was as close a representation as I could find.”

As the winner of DMU’s 3MT, Jessica will now go through to the national semi-finals of the 3MT, hosted by Vitae, competing against other PhD students in the UK.

 “This was the first time I’ve ever taken part in the Doctoral College Showcase so I am completely over the moon to have won and that I now get to represent DMU at a national level,” she said.

“Condensing my research down into just three minutes was much harder than I first expected – especially because no cue cards are allowed so I had to learn it off by heart.

“But it has been really useful for me. I feel like I am now able to speak about my research in a much simpler, clearer way.”

Meanwhile, the ‘Judge’s Choice for Excellent Presentation’ (for the 10-minute presentation) went to second-year PhD student Abdullah Alsalemi.

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Abdullah took the Judge's Choice prize

“Presenting was a new experience for me and I was not expecting to win at all, especially because there were so many brilliant presentations,” he said. “I was flabbergasted when they told me I’d won!

“My supervisors Visitng Professor Abbes Amira, Dr Hossein Malekmohamadi and Dr Kegong Diao are the cornerstones of my work – they are so supportive and they are the ones who encourage me to take up these opportunities to improve my presenting skills and connect with people outside of my field.”

For his presentation Abdullah explained to the audience how he hopes to create a visual tool that both humans and machines can understand, to help reduce energy consumption, saving consumers money and making a difference in the fight against climate change.

“Visualisation is very important for energy users if they want to understand how much they consume on a daily basis,” he explained. “The aim of my research is to develop a new tool that can make even a small change to people’s lives.”

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A line up of PhD students who received awards

Abdullah, who studied Electrical Engineering at undergraduate level in Qatar, said that creating a tool with colour-coded imagery could help people to recognise and understand their usage, while at the same time enable machines to classify data such as which appliances are in use and which rooms are consuming energy whilst unoccupied.

“At the human level we want people to understand what they are looking at, at a glance,” he said. “From the machine point of view, we want a system that can gather information to give energy efficiency researchers the chance to yield deeper understanding of data.”

As winners of their respective categories, Jessica and Abdullah each received a £150 cash prize from DMU’s Doctoral College, presented by Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor Deborah Cartmell.

Claire Hudson, Project Manager for Leicester City Council Museum Service, was one of the guest judges in attendance at the Doctoral College Showcase. She said: “It is great to get an understanding of the amazing range of research taking place at DMU.”

Posted on Monday 9th May 2022

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