14 September 2012

When globally popular skills competition Three Minute Thesis (3MT™) was first developed by UQ in 2008, it was designed to help students pitch their work effectively to people who may not have expertise in their field of research.

School of Psychology PhD student and 3MT UQ Final contestant Wen Wu found it also helped her to work through her project.

“During my PhD, I have been working across several different research areas from vision in honeybees to higher order reasoning in humans,” Ms Wu said.

“Over the last three years, I have run dozens of simulations and experiments using a range of measures.

“There was so much information that I needed to cut through to find the important nuggets.

“3MT has been extremely helpful; it has given me the opportunity to look at my research from different perspectives, and work out the best way to explain my work, both verbally and in writing.”

Ms Wu, who is in the final year of her PhD, is researching the nature of visual expertise in how people recognise and classify everyday objects and scenes.

“If you think about an expert chess player, radiographer, or firefighter, they are capable of their incredible feats because they have accumulated thousands of hours of experience,” Ms Wu said.

“We are all experts with objects and events in our visual environment.

“Our vast repository of experience allows us to make snap judgments, decipher scrambled sentences, and make sense of noisy or degraded images.

“After thousands of hours of practice and exposure to a particular category, the structure or regularities in the category become immediately apparent.

“So when it comes to recognising or classifying examples, it is effortless and automatic.”

Ms Wu said the effects of visual expertise are seen across a variety of domains.

“For example, dermatologists who analyse skin rashes have textbook descriptions of what a particular disorder looks like, but in reality, these rashes can be visually quite different,” Ms Wu said.

"These descriptions are only useful if you already know, for example, what a ‘polygonal-shaped papule’ looks like.

"Specialists need a lot of experience with the different ways that this condition can present itself across a range of patients before these textbook descriptions become meaningful.

"Despite these differences in appearance, skin specialists can accurately diagnose a particular condition very quickly and without much visual information, because they have been exposed to so many different instances of that category.”

While expertise in an area can lead to high levels of performance, even when information is lacking, Ms Wu said there was still reason for caution.

“Just because a person is an expert in one area does not necessarily mean they can assume the same level of expertise in another.

“Problems arise when people who have confidence in one area assume that they can therefore make critical decisions in other areas without sufficient levels of information.”

Ms Wu is one of eight contestants who will compete in the 3MT UQ Final on Tuesday, 18 September.

The winner of the 3MT UQ Final will be awarded a $5000 travel grant and the right to represent UQ at the prestigious Trans-Tasman final on 11 October 2012; an event that will attract competitors from more than 40 universities across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the South Pacific.

For more information about 3MT, please click here.


Media: Mark Schroder, UQ Graduate School Marketing & Communications, 3346 0509 or m.schroder@uq.edu.au.