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Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. student wins UND’s 2022 Three Minute Thesis competition

With first-place finish, Rabie Fadil will move on to regional stage hosted virtually in March

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

North Dakota is No. 1 in the nation for honey production and No. 2 in oil production, but also ranks third in incidents of Parkinson’s disease.

Within three minutes of that opening statement, Ph.D. student Rabie Fadil made his case for a new type of medical device and secured a first-place finish at UND’s 2022 Three Minute Thesis competition, to boot.

Fadil, a biomedical engineering student from Morocco, topped a diverse field of graduate students and research topics to win a $500 scholarship prize with his presentation, “Preventing falls in Parkinson’s disease.”

This year’s “3MT” competition, a concept originally conceived in 2008 at the University of Queensland, Australia, was the sixth for UND’s School of Graduate Studies. Contestants are supposed to clearly and concisely explain their research in a three-minute window, using only one PowerPoint slide.

Joining Fadil on the podium were Ph.D. students Maharshi Dey, from mechanical engineering, and Vida Atashi, from civil engineering, in second and third place, respectively. All three received scholarship awards, with each being presented on an oversized check after the final round.

Using straightforward graphics and a streamlined spiel, Fadil impressed judges through two rounds of competition among 14 other competitors. In taking first place at UND, Fadil will take part in the regional competition hosted virtually by the Western Association of Graduate Schools during their annual meeting, March 20-23 in Denver, Colo.

New approach to treating Parkinson’s

Through his talk, Fadil detailed the conditions contributing to fall risks among those living with the brain disorder, and how a device that he and fellow researchers are developing can help people with Parkinson’s know when they might be at a higher risk for a falling incident.

Fadil’s idea is to create something akin to a common bathroom scale that uses multiple body measurements and a predictive algorithm to determine someone’s risk of falling. Ideally, this information can help everyday people and doctors alike in living with and addressing the disease.

Citing the research he has done working with Parkinson’s patients at Sanford clinics in Fargo, Fadil told his audience of judges and spectators that he wants to deliver what is currently a complex and expensive monitoring process to an inexpensive, at-home device.

“To me, it’s a prestigious title, and it’s something that’s going to add a lot to my life,” Fadil said shortly after receiving his scholarship prize. “Earning first place is something I’m really proud of, and it was very challenging for me. I’m thankful to everyone who helped me in getting that title.”

Fadil lauded 3MT as a learning opportunity when asked about his motivations to enter the event.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to improve my communication skills,” said Fadil, who came to UND from an Arabic-speaking country. “Whether you’re in academia or industry, you always have to communicate, no matter the role. Sending that message, in a clear way, is something that’s very important.”

Storytellers of research

According to Chris Nelson, associate dean of UND’s School of Graduates and long-running emcee for UND’s 3MT events, employers and organizations in just about every industry have “communication skills” at the top of their needs for job candidates.

Each year, the School of Graduates recruits volunteer faculty and staff to lead training sessions for students. During monthly sessions from October through December, competitors workshop their ideas into viable three-minute presentations.

All entered students are required to attend the first session, but Soojung Kim – associate professor of communication and faculty training lead – has found that top-placing students (including Fadil) take advantage of all of the training opportunities available.

“What I really love is that every one of these students is doing an important thing in their own research field,” Kim said. “When they start talking about what they do, their eyes sparkle. And I want them to be a storyteller. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a communication student or not, you always have to be a storyteller about your own research.

“I tend to focus on a bigger picture. ‘Why are you so passionate about this? Why is it an important thing to do? Let’s make it relevant to our audience.’”

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