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Malaghan PhD student Janice Cheng shines in 3 Minute Thesis Competition

7 June 2011

We are very proud to announce that one of our up-and-coming young scientists, Ms Janice Cheng, has won the Vic International (English as a second language) category of Victoria University's 3 Minute Thesis Competition (3MT).

First held at the University of Queensland in 2008, the 3MT is an exercise in developing academic and research communication skills in which PhD and Masters students are given three minutes to present an engaging and dynamic talk on their thesis topic.

Janice was one of four students selected to represent the Science Faculty at the University finals on the 7th June, which is a fantastic achievement given the large number of students competing in the event and the high calibre of their presentations.

Janice is a PhD student in the Malaghan Institute's Immunoglycomics Group, and chose to present one particular area of her research – the development of a 'glowing glycolipid' to understand cancer vaccination – at the competition. With such a complicated subject area and only three minutes to speak this was never going to be an easy undertaking, but Janice is a natural communicator and found it helpful to draw on analogies from everyday events to relate her research to a general audience.

"The immune system is able to detect and eradicate cancer cells," says Janice. "This interaction is stimulated by a cancer vaccine but we are always looking at ways we can improve its effectiveness. One way we can do this is through the use of an adjuvant."

Janice is working with a glycolipid adjuvant derived from marine sponges. "Although we can see immune cells under a microscope we cannot see a glycolipid," says Janice. "My research has therefore been focused on labelling the glycolipid with a fluorescent dye so we can determine how it interacts with immune cells to stimulate their anti-tumour activity. This information will be vital for us to make informed decisions on how we can improve the effectiveness of the vaccine therapy."

Janice has just had her work outlining the chemical synthesis of this labelled compound published in the international scientific journal of Carbohydrate Research –another great achievement for someone so early on in their career.

Janice says that the biggest thing she has learnt from this experience is the power of effective communication. "While we know that the research we are doing here at the Malaghan Institute is something very special - and so are happy to give up our weekends and evenings to continue it - this is of little value if we cannot communicate its significance to people outside the Institute."

"It doesn't matter if we are speaking to the general public, students interested in a career in science, or politicians deciding how much government funding to allocate to research – we have to be clear and efficient in what we say if we are to get these people on board with what we are doing," says Janice. "This is a skill I feel every scientist needs to be able to grasp."

Janice was commended by the judges for her enthusiasm for her work and for the way in which she represented the Malaghan Institute and VUW's science faculty.

On behalf of everyone at the Malaghan Institute we congratulate Janice and wish her well in her future research endeavours.