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Meet Five of the 2020 UT 3MT Finalists

After multiple rounds of well-crafted presentations during the UT Three Minute Thesis Semi-Finals, twelve participants were chosen as finalists. The Three Minute Thesis competition challenges graduate students to present their research to an audience of non-specialists in three minutes with a single slide. Presentations are then evaluated by a panel of judges with respect to clarity and engagement. Being able to communicate one’s research in a clear and compelling manner to a variety of audiences is an important skill and this competition allows participants to practice that skill.

The Graduate School would like to introduce you to some of these finalists as part of Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week.

Hannah Widdifield

Hannah Widdifield presenting during the 4th semi-final competition.

Hannah Widdifield is a late-stage PhD candidate in the English department, who focuses on the intersection between literary modernism and interdisciplinary disability studies. Her current research looks at the aesthetic representation of abnormal bodies during the early half of the nineteenth century and investigates how those aesthetic standards helped define our current understanding of disability as a social category.

“While impairments and illness have always existed, the social category of disability is an invention of the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, advocates work to deconstruct this classification so that we might better understand and accept the universal interdependence we’re all part of. With this in mind, my research seeks to answer a straightforward question—why did Western culture’s modernist movement of the early 20th century develop such a fascination with disability?”

Widdifield’s dissertation, “The Crippled Aesthetics of Modernism”, argues that “our contemporary understanding of disability—not as an inherent fault in a person, but as a condition produced by society’s inability or refusal to accommodate, to understand—can be traced back to modernism’s adamant dismantling of whatever we might call ‘normal.’”

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson presenting at the 2nd semi-final competition.

Elizabeth Peterson is a third-year law student at the UT College of Law.  Her research centers around recent science around microaggressions, science that has developed tests that “show that prolonged exposure to microaggressions can be directly linked to diagnosable mental and physical health issues.” These health issues can include PTSD, anxiety, depression, heart disease and diabetes.

Peterson argues that this quantitative research can be used in court to show that microaggressions “constitutes severe and pervasive sexual harassment,” a standard that is often difficult to meet when bringing Title VII lawsuits to court. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex. Peterson hopes that this “will result in more successful ‘hostile work environment’ claims for women in court under Title VII, and a greater awareness of microaggressions in the workplace that currently harm women employees.”

Peterson is an ordained Presbyterian minister and has served as pastor at Fourth United Presbyterian Church in Knoxville for 9 years. She is interested in working as a criminal defense attorney, and particularly enjoys legal research and writing. She has lived in Knoxville for 20 years, now living in East Knoxville with her husband, George Waters, and two teenage kids, Leah and Zach.

Jessica Klabnik

Jessica Klabnik presenting at the 4th semi-final competition.

Jessica Klabnik is an early stage PhD student in the Department of Animal Science with an interest in bovine reproductive physiology. Her research is centered around heat stress on dairy cows, the effect that has on a cow’s egg, and the ultimate impact on our food supply. Lab experiments that heat stress bovine eggs show that communication between the egg and other ovarian cells is affected, which can result in the egg becoming infertile.

However, it’s not certain if this is reflective of what’s actually going on in the cow. Klabnik’s research uses “a novel approach to acutely stress the cow and then look at these cells.” She argues that this approach will not only show whether or not the lab experiments match what is happening in the cow, but may open up avenues of investigation into cellular effects that are not currently known to have a role in fertility or heat stress response. She states that by understanding “how heat stress fries the egg, we can ensure your scrambled eggs can be enjoyed with a glass of milk and a juicy steak.”

Klabnik’s previous degrees include a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University and a Master of Public Health from Kansas State University. She is also a boarded theriogenologist with residency training at UT.  Her main career goal is to remain in academia with a diverse appointment including research, teaching, and seeing clinical cases.

Lindsay Jenkinson

Lindsay Jenkinson presenting at the 3rd semi-final competition.

Lindsay Jenkinson is a master’s candidate in the Department of Food Science, studying sensory science. Her research seeks to address the health issues related to sodium consumption in the United States. The health conditions associated with an excess of sodium include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. “The challenge,” says Jenkinson, “is to reduce sodium in foods while maintaining the taste quality, flavor perception, and overall consumer acceptance that sodium delivers to food products.”

In collaboration with a flavor chemistry lab, Jenkinson and her colleagues have been able to develop a “saltiness enhancer,” by processing white button mushrooms to create a compound that “has made low-sodium formulations of chicken broth and even meatballs taste significantly saltier to hundreds of panelists.” The end goal is to provide a way to reduce the sodium content of savory foods, while still maintaining the perception of saltiness that plays such a critical role in flavor, thus maintaining consumer acceptance.

Lindsay is from Bethel, Connecticut and holds a BS in food science and technology from Clemson University. Lindsay has a broad range of experience within the food industry, from agriculture to her most recent position in analytical services with Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Shande King

Shande King presenting during the 3rd semi-final competition.

Shande King is a PhD candidate in teacher education, specializing in mathematics education. His research centers around improving outcomes of K-12 students in mathematics. By implementing small-group discourse strategies in the classroom, King seeks to not only instruct students in mathematical argumentation, but to allow them to create a more positive identity around their mathematical abilities.

King has taught all levels of mathematics and French for ten years in middle and high schools in east Tennessee and Paris, France. He has also taught English to French students and researched French teacher pedagogy in mathematics teaching as a Fulbright scholar. Shande has presented at several local, regional, national, and international conferences about math and STEM education and authored or co-authored five articles and book chapters about not only K-12 math student discourse and argumentation, but also STEM pre-service teacher preparation and identity development, as well as student representation of statistical literacy through artistic data visualization. He has served UT as a graduate teaching associate for VolsTeach and he has taught introductory and capstone courses in mathematics and STEM education and served as the TEAM evaluator for pre-service secondary mathematic and STEM educators.

Congratulations to all of our participants; we appreciate all the work you have done for this competition!