Ropafadzo Mzezewa pitches epilepsy modeling to the win

Ropafadzo Mzezewa, a doctoral researcher in Neuro Group at Tampere University, is an expert when it comes to epilepsy in vitro modeling. Now Mzezewa also excels in presenting her research – she took home the win of the Science Night Live pitching competition a few weeks ago.

Siiri Suominen

For the science communication and networking event, which was held at Research Center Heureka in Vantaa, Ropafadzo Mzezewa summarized her whole PhD project into a 3-minute pitch. In her speech “How to model epilepsy outside the brain” Mzezewa discussed her research work and its importance. “With epilepsy being among the top ten neurological diseases in the world, it’s critical to develop relevant testing models to find treatments for the patients”, she explains.

Play video on YouTube (opens in new tab)

Know your audience

Mzezewa emphasizes the importance of identifying the most relevant highlights of your research when starting to create a pitch.

Another main factor when it comes to a successful talk, whether it is given in a scientific conference or a class of high school students, is knowing who you are talking to. Alma Yrjänäinen, a doctoral researcher in Adult Stem Cell Group, participated in Three Minute Thesis competition in 2021. When asked about the most important aspects related to pitching, she had a clear answer.

“Know your audience”, she urges. “When you know who you are talking to, you can choose the correct vocabulary, terms and examples based on the audience in question”, she continues.

In Science Night Live, the pitch was aimed for a non-scientific audience, and thus, the scientific terminology needed to be simplified.

“The key is to imagine how you can explain your topic to someone who has no idea about the field and has never even heard certain terms before”, Mzezewa describes.

Ropafadzo Mzezewa develops human brain models for epilepsy using induced pluripotent stem cell technology. Skin cells isolated from the patients are first induced back to the stem cell stage from where she differentiates the cells into neurons. Photo: Jonne Renvall.

Practice makes perfect

Pitching is not only about promoting one’s work for others as it also helps to see helps the researchers to see the overview of their own research. However, even though it sounds easier to talk about your research compared to doing it – it might be harder than one might expect.

“The closer the competition came, the more I practiced”, Mzezewa tells.

Friends, family members and colleagues including her co-supervisors were among the audience Mzezewa practiced with. A broad test audience also meant a lot of feedback, from people both in and outside the scientific community, which helped her shape the pitch into its final form.

Even with a lot of repetition, Mzezewa felt the stress growing as the competition got closer. However, when she was finally able to present her pitch, to tell her story, she felt relieved.

“When I got to the stage, I felt fine”, she describes. “A cliché or not, but no-one knows your story better than you, so you can explain and share it exactly the way you want to” she laughs.