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Postgraduate students take part in thesis competition

PhD students from across City University London discuss their research in a three minute challenge

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

PhD students from the School of Health Sciences won three out of four prizes at the recent Three Minute Thesis competition.

Taking place at the University Annual Postgraduate Research Symposium, Irene Ctori, from the Division of Optometry and Visual Science came in first place, winning £1000 towards a conference and entry to the 2015 Vitae National Competition. Judith Kistner took 2nd place and £750 towards a conference, with the audience award going to Abi Roper (both from the Division of Language and Communication Science) who also received £500 towards a conference.

Speaking about the award, Irene said: “The most common question that you are asked during your PhD studies is ‘What is your PhD about?’ Taking part in this competition really makes you think about how to give the ‘elevator pitch’. That said, summarising the last three years of your work in three minutes is quite a challenge! I have a longstanding relationship with City having done both my undergraduate and Master’s degree here and I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded first prize in the Three Minute Thesis competition.”

A final year PhD student from the Division of Optometry and Visual Science, Irene spoke about variations in macular pigment. Contained in the central retina - which is responsible for detailed vision - it serves a protective function by filtering out UV light. Lower levels of macular pigment are believed to be associated with increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. Given the lack of AMD treatment there is great interest in developing preventative strategies.

Macular pigment is diet-derived and potentially modifiable through diet or supplements. However, the amount of macular pigment varies among individuals and dietary differences only account for 10% of the variation. There is suggestion that ethnicity plays a role, with lower macular pigment levels in whites compared to non-whites. Another contributing factor could be differences in the architecture of the retina.

As a result Irene’s PhD study focuses on the differences in macular pigment distribution and its association with retinal anatomy between the three largest ethnic groups in the UK: white, South Asian and black. The aim is to evolve understanding of inter-individual variations in macular pigment.

“I am very grateful for the award which will fund a trip to a conference. I am due to present my work later this year at a specialised conference in Cambridge. I would also love to go to one of the biggest Vision Science conferences next year in the U.S. and plan to use my award money to finance this trip. Presenting your work is such an integral part of being a researcher and I appreciate every opportunity to do so,” said Irene.

Judith Kistner, who came second, spoke about the use of gestures in aphasic conversation, while Abi Roper, who won the audience award, discussed the role of computers in communication. Madeline Pritchard, from the Division of Language and Communication Science also won third prize in the 5th Annual Postgraduate Research Symposium.

Listen to Irene speak about her thesis on the Speakezee podcast:

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