PhD Student Wins Research Award for Work on Aging in 3-Minute Thesis Competition

PhD; Research; Social Work; Students

Can you explain your thesis in just three minutes, in a way that anyone can grasp?

Christi Lero, a doctoral student in social work at the Brown School, did just that, delivering the winning presentation at the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition, earning the 2024 Mark S. Wrighton Award on Aging. 

Organized by the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging, the 3MT competition challenges PhD students to present their research in a concise and accessible way for a diverse audience. The Mark S. Wrighton Research Award recognizes doctoral students who show outstanding promise as researchers on topics relevant to older adults and aging society.

On March 6, in a captivating display of succinct scholarship, Lero presented her dissertation, titled “Using Self-Compassion to Enhance Wellbeing of Caregivers of People with Neurodegenerative Disease,” impressing a panel of judges from various fields.

“Winning this competition and award is an honor and certainly motivates me to continue doing research in a meaningful and accessible way,” Lero said. “Competitions like 3MT and awards like the Mark S. Wrighton Research Award on Aging are platforms for budding researchers to share their work but also practice talking about complicated things in an accessible way.”

Lero’s success was no happenstance; it was a product of thorough preparation. When asked about her approach, she attributed her triumph to rehearsing, refining, and even reaching out to a stranger.

“Practice, practice, practice!” she remarked of her readiness plan. “I am very fortunate to have the most supportive spouse, friends, and mentors who listened to my speech and helped me revise. There is even a kind student worker in the Brown School library that volunteered three minutes of their time and gave some feedback.” 

Lero’s dissertation research focuses on using self-compassion as a mechanism to help caregivers maintain well-being during and after caregiving.

She explained: “Caregivers of people with diseases like ALS, Huntington’s, and dementia dedicate years of their lives to making sure their loved ones receive care that is respectful and dignified, but that means sacrificing quite a lot of their time, energy, resources, and selves.”

Recognizing the collaborative nature of her scientific work, Lero expressed gratitude to the caregivers who shared their experiences with her.

“Science is a team sport and great work isn’t done alone,” she said. “I am so grateful for all the support I have received, and especially for all the caregivers who have let me walk beside them in their most difficult times. Any recognition I receive reflects the dedication and care I have witnessed from them.” 

Lero’s thesis advisor is Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Betty Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy. Lero, an NIH T32 Predoctoral Fellow, will be honored at the Annual Friedman Lecture and Awards on April 5, where she will discuss her research in more detail.