A Sexy Snail Tale

A Sexy Snail Tale

Terence Ng (left) with the champion and the runner-up of the 2012 Trans-Tasman 3MT Competition at the cocktail reception in Brisbane
Terence Ng presenting at the 2012 Trans-Tasman 3MT Competition

Sex may be the last thing most people think about when looking at snails, but Terence Pun Tung Ng, a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences, sees things differently. His thesis on the sex lives of snails is attempting to challenge the traditional interpretation of sexual selection theory. It is also gaining interest beyond the laboratory because of his winning way in telling the story of his research.

Terence was the winner of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition at HKU in 2012 and he subsequently represented the University at the Trans-Tasman 3MT Competition held at The University of Queensland (UQ), where he competed in a field of 43 competitors selected from among more than 50,000 research students in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Hong Kong. The 3MT is an academic competition developed by UQ in 2008 for research students.

Terence had three minutes to explain his evidence that snails are competitive and choosy when selecting their mates - something that the Darwin theory of sexual selection does not consider to be possible on the assumption that snails lack the sensory and mental capacity to compete for or select mates.

Although his presentation did not win at the Trans-Tasman 3MT, he learned a lot from watching his fellow competitors.

"It was like a boxing stage with all these competitors blending their wit and knowledge to land solid punches. Some of the students were really good at using analogies to illustrate complex theories or methods, while some made very good use of funny jokes to grab attention," he said.

"I now realise that nothing is impossible to articulate, it's just a matter of skill. I also noticed that a good speech does not only end with applause, it also creates a desire in the audience to know more about your topic."

Terence said the 3MT format was a good way to challenge research postgraduate students to explain their research to non-specialists.

"Despite working in offices or laboratories within walking distance of each other, research students from different disciplines often have no idea what the people 'next door' are doing. By encouraging students to describe their research in lay language, the 3MT gets them to share their expertise and even build up interdisciplinary collaborations. I remember during the HKU 3MT, one student told me she never would have noticed somebody at HKU was doing such interesting work if she hadn't joined this competition," he said.

The next HKU 3MT Competition will be held on June 11, 2013. The champion this year will have the chance to represent HKU at the Trans-Tasman 3MT to be held at the University of Western Sydney in October 2013.

The HKU 3MT website is at www.ke.hku.hk/hku3mt and the Facebook is at https://www.facebook.com/hkukeo/app_202980683107053.