Schmidt College of Science Master’s Student Hayley Knapp Captures Second Place in State-wide 3MT® Competition

May, 2023

First-year Biological Sciences master’s degree student Hayley Knapp placed second overall in the state-wide Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition hosted at the University of Miami on April 19. Earlier this spring, Knapp won first place in Florida Atlantic’s annual 3MT® competition for her presentation, “From Poop to Parent: Examining Paternity in Dynamic Atlantic Spotted Dolphin Populations in the Bahamas.”Hayley Knapp

Knapp’s faculty advisor for the project is John Baldwin, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean for Faculty Development, Schmidt College of Science.

How does it feel to place second in the state 3MT® competition?
Surprising! It was unexpected and quite a shock when they announced it since everyone’s presentations were so good. I never expected to do so well.

What does this achievement mean to you?
I have wanted to study dolphins since I was 4 years old, and as a Kansas girl born and raised, I knew it wouldn’t be easy for me to achieve my dream. My success in the 3MT® competition tells me I am right where I am meant to be. It means a lot to me, as well, because it was an honor to have represented FAU at the state competition.

What area of research are you studying for your master’s degree?
I am studying the genetics of Atlantic spotted dolphins in an effort to better understand the paternity and genetic implications within two merging populations in the Bahamas.

How difficult/easy was it for you to translate your research into a winning 3MT® talk?

It was both. Some of it was easy, like starting my speech with a story about projectile penguin poop, and some of it was hard, like simplifying the more complicated terms of my research.

How did you prepare?
I took what I had been reading and writing for my proposal seminar, and I pulled out the most important information. I then wrote a script, so to speak. For me, I knew I needed something to memorize because I had done theater when I was younger, and I had a feeling those skills could be applied to this situation. Then, I practiced with a stopwatch in front of a mirror, with friends (on FaceTime and in-person) and with my family. I knew if I could get through my presentation while FaceTiming my brother –– who was bound to laugh and make me laugh –– I was ready.

What did you like best about the competition?
I liked the challenge. I am a very competitive person and always have been. I grew up as a competitive swimmer and competing is something that I enjoy. The competitive atmosphere provided by 3MT® is exciting and challenging, and I like to see how far I can push myself.

How did the Department of Biological Sciences help you prepare?
They encouraged me to compete. Originally, I wasn’t planning on competing because I was so busy and didn’t think I had the time. But, my advisor and fellow lab mates encouraged me to because there was no harm in doing a three-minute speech. I am glad they did! I was also working on my master’s proposal seminar at the time, so I was prepared with the information I needed since I had been going over it with my advisors for weeks.

What did you learn through this process?
I learned how to take a rather complex topic –– extracting DNA from fecal samples to examine microsatellites and trace paternity in spotted dolphins –– and simplify it into something relatable, funny and informative that anyone could understand.

Do you have any advice for others competing next year?
Don’t be afraid to compete because you’re busy. Like one of my friends said, ‘It's only three minutes.’ Don’t be afraid to be funny. Yes, it is an academic competition, but it is supposed to be personable and relatable. I chose to relate my research with dolphin poop to my previous experience working with penguins and dodging their projectile poop. It was a good attention grabber and something that anyone who has worked with animals could probably relate to.