Check out #ANU3MT People’s Choice Final at Open Day

From 2016 Asia-Pacific 3MT winner Josh Chu-Tan
28 July 2017

In our world, we have really short attention spans so it's perfect!  In those three minutes, you'll get to learn about what students are actually doing at ANU.  

Josh Chu-Tan is a PhD student studying neuroscience at ANU. He was born in the United States, moving to New Zealand with his family when he was ten years old. He arrived in Australia in 2011 to study a Bachelor of Medical Science at ANU. He completed Honours before commencing his PhD at just 21 years of age.

3MT showcases what you can do at ANU

"You learn a lot in a short amount of time by watching the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. In our world, we have really short attention spans so it's perfect!  In those three minutes, you'll get to learn about what students are actually doing at ANU.  

3MT opens up a whole new world. The competitors are from different departments and schools and doing completely different things. When I was considering ANU, I had zero clue about the mountain of different subject areas offered. Seeing 3MT opens your eyes to that.

While it's great to have a good idea about what you want to do at uni when you're 17 or 18, I strongly believe that you shouldn't strictly hold yourself to that. 

At uni, you'll experience so many different things that you might not have thought you'd be interested in.  Have the time and space to be open to other opportunities. That's what ANU can offer and that's what 3MT showcases."

My first experience of 3MT

"The year before I entered 3MT I got dragged along to the ANU finals not knowing what to expect. I knew it was about presenting your thesis in three minutes and I remember thinking, 'That's impossible - nobody can do that!'

There were eight students in the final but there were like, 1,000 people in the crowd! All these people were interested in what these students had to say. And to hear them distil years of work into this three-minute pitch was fascinating ... I was blown away.

Halfway through the final, my brain drifted to what I might say if it was me up there. By the end of it I thought, 'I might just give this a crack next year.'

Having the confidence to compete

"Competing in 3MT was daunting. My confidence came from really believing in what we were doing in the lab. If I hadn't there's no way I could have 'faked it' onstage or written anything nearly half as good. 

It would be wrong to say that I've always been confident at public speaking. I gave my first proper speech in Year 6 or Year 7 and I was shaking in my boots! But it was a bit of a rush.

Ever since then when there's been an opportunity to speak publicly I'll do it. I still get nervous every time I walk on stage. But I enjoy learning how to calm my nerves and channel my adrenalin into something where I can impact people or portray confidence. I'm no expert yet though!

After my first 3MT pitch, I remember sitting down with no idea if I had even said half the things I wanted to. But I was hooked and after that, I just wanted to improve each time.

Winning the ANU final and then the Asia-Pacific 3MT final has been an amazing experience, especially the doors that have opened and the people I've met along the way."

Making a difference

"My pitch was on my research into Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) which affects one in seven Australians, an absurdly high number that costs around $5b to the economy.

As you age your retina starts to deteriorate and then your vision starts to go, and when your vision goes your life changes.

My lab's research focuses on gene-based therapeutics for that. We use these tiny molecules called microRNA to regulate a whole number of genes at once.  And they're endogenous within us, so you're not introducing anything new per se.

We're working on isolating microRNA that we think are affected in AMD and to see that if we manipulate their levels - increase them or decrease them - can we slow down the progression of AMD.

These microRNA can work on biological pathways, including inflammatory pathways, to decrease inflammation for AMD, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's ... all these age-related neuro-degenerative diseases.  

There's no cure for AMD right now. There is a therapy for the 'wet form' which only affects about 10% of people with AMD. The wet form is characterised by neovascularisation where new blood vessels form and leak into your retina causing quick and severe vision loss.

But 90% of people have the 'dry form' of AMD and no treatment options. The dry form is perceived as more gradual. Deterioration is slow until you get atrophy and death of the photoreceptors and your pigmented epithelium underneath. At times the dry form can progress to the wet form as your retina becomes more damaged, and blood vessels start to leak in. 

Before we can think about curing AMD, we need to find ways to ameliorate its progression and slow it down. Preventative measures are always better than a cure.

Ask anyone with AMD if they could have just two or three years of better vision compared to what they have now, they would take it in a heartbeat. "

Life after ANU

"When I graduate with my PhD I'd love to take a few months off just to travel. But in terms of careers it would be awesome if I could stay in academia and research. It really is just so fascinating - especially health research getting into more clinical stuff. The plan is to look for postdoc opportunities after my PhD - fellowships and stuff like that. That's the dream."

The #ANU3MT People's Choice Final is at ANU Open Day 26 August at the School of Art,12.30-1.20pm.