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Ian Thomas, biological sciences master's student, accepts his award from University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman, during the Three Minute Thesis competition on Monday, March 26, 2018.Ian Thomas, biological sciences master's student, accepts his award from University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman, during the Three Minute Thesis competition on Monday, March 26, 2018.

Biological sciences student soars in 3M Thesis Competition

The winner of this year’s Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Windsor is examining how the chirping of the Savannah Sparrow may help researchers to better understand the development of human language.

Biological sciences master’s student Ian Thomas took home the $1,000 top prize and the chance to represent the University of Windsor at the Ontario 3MT competition final at York University on April 19, 2018.

“It’s surprising,” Thomas said of his win following the competition. “It can be hard to make pure biological science as relevant when there is so much great research being done here on human interest.”

This year’s competition, Monday in the Alumni Auditorium, saw 20 graduate students present their thesis, major research paper or dissertation topic in under three minutes and with the use of a single presentation slide.

Liza-Anastasia DiCecco, mechanical, automotive and materials engineering master's student, presents during the Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Windsor on March 26, 2018.

Liza-Anastasia DiCecco, mechanical, automotive and materials engineering master's student, presents during the Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Windsor on March 26.

In his presentation, Thomas said he spends his springs and summers examining how young savannah sparrows learn to imitate the songs of adults. This process is called vocal learning and is extremely rare in nature, so Thomas said understanding how these birds learn their songs may help unlock how humans develop language.

“My research focuses on understanding the evolutionary advantage that birds gain from learning their song,” he said. “The songs these sparrows use to intimidate their rivals, court their mates are individually learned, and my work is to unravel this learning process and get a sense of what the evolutionary value of these songs is.”

The second-place prize of $500 went to mechanical, automotive and materials engineering student Liza-Anastasia Di-Cecco and the third prize of $250 went to biological sciences doctoral student Ingrid Qemo.

The Three Minute Thesis competition started at the University of Queensland in 2008 and has quickly spread around the world.

The winners of the provincial competition at York University will then go on to compete at the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies' annual conference.

Ingrid Qemo, biological sciences doctoral student, presents during the Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Windsor on March 26, 2018.

Ingrid Qemo, biological sciences doctoral student, presents during the Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Windsor on March 26.