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Winner of UM's 2020 3MT competition, Toby Le


Watch the 3MT Western Regionals and vote for UM challenger Toby Le!

September 15, 2020 — 

In a year that saw the UM’s 3MT competition become an online event for the first time due to COVID-19, the 3MT Western Regionals are doing the same thing. UM’s winner, Toby Le, will compete against 16 challengers from across Western Canada in an online event on September 23 beginning at 2pm central. We chatted with Toby Le about his research and his experience competing in 3MT thus far.


What is your research about?

My research aims to understand how DMPA, a commonly used hormonal contraceptive, is linked with HIV risk. This is important because, in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV infections are most common in areas where DMPA is commonly used. In particular, my project is looking at how DMPA affects a specific immune cell called Natural Killer (NK) cells, which is a type of white blood cell that protects us against infection and cancer. By understanding how DMPA affects NK cells, it can help us to unravel the links between DMPA and HIV-risk.


What got you interested in this topic?

During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to participate in a 3-month internship in Tanzania where I worked with local community leaders and NGOs {non-governmental organizations}. This experience was lifechanging as it showed me the importance of research and its implications on marginalized communities around the world. While I was in Tanzania, I was also exposed to the issues of HIV and how it contributed to poverty, mortality, and discrimination. Coming back from the internship, I was determined to pursue HIV research with the hopes that I could help researchers find ways to prevent and/or treat HIV.


Your studies have involved some travel, can you tell us about those experiences?

Earlier this year, I also travelled to Nairobi, Kenya where I visited a community of sex workers that our lab has been working in partnership with for 40 years to study HIV. One of the major activities I participated in was the tour of the local hotspots – locations where sex work is conducted.  As part of this trip, I also attended a research conference where I met researchers around the world whom are conducting infectious disease research. By the end of the trip, I was in awe by the overwhelming abundance of researchers, health care workers, and community leaders that are all working together to study HIV. 


Was it difficult condensing your research in three minutes?

Condensing my research into three minutes was definitely a learning curve. While the talk was only three minutes, it took me several months to prepare and troubleshoot.


Has the challenge of 3MT made it easier to explain your research to people?

100% yes. This 3MT competition has pushed me to develop my communication skills and to re-think how I present every aspect of my research. It has also taught me how to engage my audience and how to use appropriate terminologies for different audiences. Overall, 3MT is an excellent learning opportunity to develop your communication skills and more importantly, develop your ability as a scientist to engage your local community.


Tune in September 23 at 2pm to watch the Western Regionals live stream, and vote for Toby for People’s Choice! The winning competitors will move on to the 3MT National competition.


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