#U213MT 2016 Overall Winner - Kate Riegle van West (University of Auckland)

Three Minute Thesis winner studying at the University of Auckland

The 3MT® (Three Minute Thesis) competition is a global competition run across the university network Universitas 21.  PhD students are challenged to communicate the significance of their research projects to a non-specialist audience in less than three minutes.

The winner of the 2016 competition was Kate Riegle van West who has been conducting her PhD research at the University of Auckland.  Kate is an American student and poi artist, who came to the University of Auckland in 2015 to conduct her research into how poi could contribute to better physical and cognitive function in healthy older adults.

Poi originated with the Māori people and is still practised by Māori today in a traditional dance performance, but a modern form of poi spinning has also been taken up by circus performers and as a hobby around the world. Poi in simple terms are "socks with a weight in the end" that you "spin in circles around your body".  "Poi" itself is a Māori word for ball on a cord.

Kate’s research looks at how the co-ordination and physical movements involved in spinning poi could aid in maintaining the physical health of older people.  The study has so far showed that poi was just as effective as Tai Chi (her comparison group) on cognitive function, including improved focus and attention, but had a number of physical benefits too, such as improvements in upper limb movement, grip strength and manual dexterity - benefits that can help older people stay independent longer. 

Kate spoke of her excitement at winning: "The 3MT competition has taken me on an incredible (and sometimes nerve-racking!) journey, from my small heat at the University of Auckland, to filming my speech in a TV studio, to the Asia-Pacific finals in Brisbane. The competition has given me an amazing platform to share my research on poi and health, and I am super excited and honoured that the judges have chosen me as the winner! “

Got a great idea for a PhD thesis and want to find out about studying it in New Zealand or Australia?  Have a look at our research page or contact a Study Options student advisor for more information about how you can apply.

Article updated December 2018 to remove expired links

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