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Thesis presentation lands WCU grad top honors in competition

By Tom Lotshaw
emily deem

Emily Deem

Western Carolina University graduate Emily Deem took home first place and a $1,000 cash prize in a Tar Heel Three Minute Thesis event the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School hosted online this summer.

The effective-communication competition gave Deem and nine other graduate students from universities across North Carolina exactly three minutes each to present their research and its impact to a panel of non-specialists.

Deem has a bachelor’s degree in forensic anthropology from WCU and earned her master’s degree in biology this May. Her presentation was titled, “Chilled to the Bone: Comparing Four DNA Extraction Methods for Solving Cold Cases.”

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Deem has researched the effectiveness of DNA extraction methods, including three used for modern materials and one used for ancient materials, and how the methods can complement one another to help solve crimes and identify the remains of missing people.

“It was a really good communication exercise for me,” Deem said about the competition. “Describing DNA to a lay person is difficult. This helped me get back to the basics and get back in touch with that. It was definitely a challenge and a positive experience.”

Deem recently started working in the laboratory at Bode Technology, a Virginia-based company that provides DNA analysis, consulting, training and validation services worldwide.

Three Minute Thesis was created by the University of Queensland, Austrialia, in 2008 as a way to help doctoral students develop and showcase their communication skills. Such events are now held by more than 900 universities in 85 countries. This was the second-annual Tar Heel Three Minute Thesis, launched with financial support from the nonprofit Burroughs Wellcome Fund and organized by the Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill with additional assistance from the North Carolina Council of Graduate Schools.

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