Chemical and Biological Engineering PhD Student Won in 2021 Asia-Pacific Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition

Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) PhD student Usman Bin SHAHID won the People’s Choice Award in the 2021 Virtual Asia-Pacific Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition, which challenges doctoral students to succinctly explain their research to a non-specialist audience in just 180 seconds. He is the first awardee from a Hong Kong university since the competition was launched in 2010 (known as Trans-Tasman 3MT® Competition before 2016).

The 1st Runner-up in the internal 2021 HKUST 3MT® Competition held in April, Usman represented the University and entered the final round of the 2021 Asia-Pacific 3MT® Competition on October 20 as one of the eight finalists selected from 54 competitors of 54 universities in Australia, New Zealand, Oceania, Northeast Asia, and Southeast Asia. He is the first HKUST student who reached the final of this competition since the first HKUST participant joined in 2015.

He impressed the audience with his presentation on “Electrochemical ammonia synthesis: Towards a brighter and cleaner future”. He said, “Your audience can be anyone – literally anyone – from an eight-year-old kid to an 80-year-old academician and [I need to] be able to impart my research so that they can understand it successfully.”

With his audience in mind always, after an hour and a half’s competition, Usman won the People’s Choice Award – one of only three awards given at the contest each year.

Asked how 3MT® has benefited him, Usman said, “My first impression of 3MT® was that it required you to trivialize your research so that people can understand it better. However, as a participant, I realized it’s definitely not the case. In fact, it helped me put in perspective three very important things: Why? What? How? A simple answer to these three questions is what 3MT® is all about, and that is what helped me realize the purpose of my PhD and helped me maintain focus all these years.”

He said he was honored and grateful to represent Hong Kong and HKUST at the event. “Undoubtedly this achievement could not have been possible without the support from my supervisor Prof. SHAO Minhua, the group members, HKUST faculty and staff who coached us and organized the event, as well as the great environment provided by the School of Engineering and CBE Department.”

Usman first entered the HKUST 3MT® Competition in 2019 during his first year of studies and was awarded as the 1st Runner-up. The 2020 HKUST competition was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Dean of Engineering Prof. Tim CHENG said, “I am glad to see that our students put in their efforts to make presentation and communication skills part of their researcher training process. This award is an encouragement for Usman and all of our students, for whom the School of Engineering always aims at providing holistic researcher development.”

Developed by the University of Queensland in 2008, the 3MT® Competition is now a globally recognized event held in over 900 universities across more than 85 countries and regions worldwide. At HKUST, the School of Engineering (SENG) started hosting the 3MT® Competition in 2014. In 2018, through the collaboration of SENG and the Fok Ying Tung Graduate School (then the Office of Postgraduate Studies), the competition was expanded to the university level and welcomed research students from all schools and programs to participate. Since 2015, HKUST students who won in the internal 3MT® Competition have represented the University to compete in the Asia-Pacific competition held in Brisbane, Australia.


Usman’s single static slide in his 3MT® presentation
Usman (right) and his supervisor Prof. Shao Minhua

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