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Poppable “cyst” cake wins Bake Your Thesis contest

Thursday, 2 August 2018

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Otago's first Bake Your Thesis competition winner Lorissa McDougall with "I incyst you try some" - a baked representation of her research into potential treatments for polycystic kidney disease. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

An exceptionally creative (and slightly disgusting) cake has won the University’s inaugural Bake Your Thesis competition, held in the Law Faculty Seminar Room yesterday afternoon as part of the annual Otago Graduate Research Festival.

Lorissa McDougall of Pathology beat 13 other graduate students with “I incyst you try some” – two kidney-shaped cakes covered in small, cream and lemon curd-filled, fondant donut “cysts” – which you could actually squeeze.

"I got the idea from the Youtube site Dr Pimple Popper, where they did pimple popper cakes – and then I applied it to my research."

The cakes were made to represent her Master’s thesis research into polycystic kidney disease. Working under supervisors Professor Mike Eccles and Dr Cherie Stayner, she is investigating novel compounds that could potentially treat and delay the growth of cysts.

One of her two cakes had large “cysts” to represent an untreated kidney, while the other had smaller “cysts” and was also covered in smarties to represent the potential treatment.

“I got the idea from the Youtube site Dr Pimple Popper, where they did pimple popper cakes – and then I applied it to my research,” she says.

She says she was really surprised to win the competition, which was a great opportunity to see the types of research happening across the University – not just in her own division – and entered because it felt like a nice, easy-going event.

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People's Choice winners Sarahmarie Innes and Katie Mahn with "Teach someone to cook and they will eat well for a lifetime".

The People’s Choice Award went to Sarahmarie Innes and Katie Mahn of Human Nutrition for “Teach someone to cook and they'll eat well for a lifetime” – a beautiful gingerbread plate, knife and fork, with decorated gingerbread fish and vegetables.

"Essentially, helping someone learn to cook gives them tools to eat healthier over their lifetime."

“Our concept was based on the saying ‘give someone a fish and they'll eat for a day, teach them to fish and they'll eat for a lifetime’. We think this analogy applies really nicely to learning to cook (our research topic). People who can cook tend to eat healthier, because they are less reliant on food outlets and ready-made meals. Essentially, helping someone learn to cook gives them tools to eat healthier over their lifetime. We put a fish on a plate, and added some vegetables so that it was more nutritionally balanced.”

The pair are both completing their Master’s degrees under Dr Paula Skidmore and Dr Katherine Black, and are analysing different parts of the COOK Study (Create Our Own Kai) – a study with two groups of Dunedin teenagers, one of which received cooking lessons.

They say receiving the People's Choice award was “the icing on the cake (pun unintended)”.

“We're really stoked to receive the award. The contest was a great opportunity to communicate key messages from our research, and we like to think that people voted for us because they understood the way we communicated it (or liked the colourful icing).”

They also enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the other contestants about their creations.

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Jade De La Paz, who is studying biological anthropology and clinical anatomy, with her skull cake.

The Dean of the Graduate Research School Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith says the competition, based on similar events held at universities around the world and sponsored by ‘Gilbert’s on Albany Cafe’, provided an opportunity for research students to get creative with their culinary skills and create a visual, baked, edible representation of their research.

Graduate Research School Executive Assistant Susan Craig says that as well as getting students to think creatively about disseminating their research and have fun at the same time, “it is also important to hold events like this to encourage them to get out of their labs and offices and mix with each other”.

The competition attracted 14 entries, from a wide array of departments.

The judging panel appraised each offering, with creativity given slightly more credence than flavour.

Professor Spronken-Smith hopes the popular event will become a regular feature in the annual festival.

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Deanna Beckett with her lolly cake teeth – representing intergenerational oral health.

The 2018 Graduate Research Festival

The Bake Your Thesis event was one in a two-week programme of events which kicked off on Monday, aiming to showcase and celebrate Graduate Research across the University and to provide events for candidates and staff that add value to their experience.

"We try to have a mix of academic, fun and social events ... one of our aims is to address the solitary and rather insular nature of graduate work."

“We try to have a mix of academic, fun and social events,” Professor Spronken-Smith explains. “And one of our aims is to address the solitary and rather insular nature of graduate work.

“We decided to open this year’s Festival with a panel discussion on wellbeing. Our panel members all emphasised the importance of connecting with people to feel part of a community. Candidates can quickly find themselves feeling isolated if they place all their focus on their thesis, yet we know from research that candidates are more likely to feel engaged and productive in their studies if they see themselves as a member of a community. For this reason, we try to get candidates out of their offices and labs, mixing with and meeting each other and sharing their journeys with fellow candidates and staff.

Other highlights of the festival include the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition final on tomorrow night, a panel discussion on career options for PhD candidates, a workshop on managing your thesis as a research project, the annual OUSA Supervision of the Year award announcement, and an Occupatus meet-up for PhD candidates who are also staff members.

Come along:

Three Minute Thesis final
Fri 3 Aug, doors open at 4:45pm for prompt start: 5pm to 7pm
Castle 2 Lecture Theatre

Progress Reporting: The Why and How workshop
This session is aimed at doctoral candidates, supervisors and administrative staff involved in progress reporting. It covers the rationale for progress reporting, and seeks to demystify the various components, stages and roles involved in the process.
Mon 6 Aug, 2pm to 3pm
Book Online.

Thinking About Career Options for PhD Candidates: a panel discussion
Mon 6 Aug, 3:30pm to 5:30pm
Seminar Room, Centre for Innovation

Planning and Prepping for a Career
Tue 7 Aug, 10:30am to 12noon
Seminar Room, HEDC

Postgraduate Open Day for prospective students
Tue 7 Aug, 10am to 2pm
The Link

Managing your Thesis as a Research Project: 10 Simple Ideas – workshop
Thu 9 Aug, 1pm to 3pm
Science Library seminar room
https://otago.libcal.com/event/4361519

OUSA Supervisor of the Year
Thu 9 Aug, 5pm to 6pm
Invitation Only

Occupatus meet-up for PhD candidates who are also staff
Fri 10 Aug, 12:30pm to 1:15pm
Te Mātiti Cafe, Otago School of Business