Skip to main content

TEDx talks and beyond? Wonderful opportunities and unique challenges abound in the life of an academic (and my career has yet to officially begin!)

Careers and University, Pharmacy, The Health Industry

We asked pharmacist and PhD candidate Kenny Lee what it was like to speak at the recent TEDxPerth event…..

“Each year at TEDxPerth, local and international ‘thinkers and doers’ from vast disciplines are invited to share ideas, inspire and engage a large (live and online) audience through short talks of no longer than 18 minutes. In the past, I’ve streamed many TED and TEDx talks online. I have always been in awe with the accomplishments of these presenters, and how well they are able to convey powerful, inspirational, and sometimes poignant messages. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I was asked to give a 3-5 minute talk about my research in the foyer of the venue hosting TEDxPerth 2014!

No, I wasn’t asked to give a daunting 18 minute talk in front of a full audience on centre stage. I was, however, tasked with drawing the attention of hungry audience members shuffling past me on their journey to/from the lunch queue – a unique challenge to say the least. Once I managed to draw attention, my next challenge was to explain my research in an easy-to-comprehend and interesting way. If that wasn’t enough, I had to talk to an audience whose primary purpose for attending TEDxPerth was unlikely to hear about my research (talk about a tough crowd, haha).

How did I fare? How was I given this wonderful opportunity? All will be explained in the next few minutes…but first, a little about me…

I registered as a pharmacist in late 2011. As much as I found joy in helping consumers maintain and improve their health, I knew early on that I wanted to do even bigger things. I wanted to improve healthcare on a larger scale, in an era of increasing chronic disease burden. I knew pursuing a career in academia would allow me to fulfil this ultimate goal. So in 2012, I embarked on my PhD journey (in case you aren’t aware, a PhD is a 3-4 year research degree where you have to plan and conduct research, and share your findings about a particular topic).

As a pharmacist, I was (and still am) concerned with the increasing number of consumers presenting to the pharmacy with requests based on health information sourced online. While I believe consumers play an important role in healthcare, I am also aware that the Internet is rife with misleading, inaccurate, and often overly technical information. I soon realised that, as health professionals, there’s little we can do to stop consumers from ‘Googling’ information about their health condition(s). So I decided that, for my PhD research, I would investigate ways to help consumers living with chronic diseases to find relevant, reliable, and easy-to-comprehend health information online.

What have I learnt in the past 2.5 years of undertaking my PhD? Well, let’s leave that for another time (but if you really want to know, here’s a long research article I co-authored). For now, let’s get back to my TEDxPerth speaking opportunity…

Throughout my 2.5 years of undertaking my PhD, I’ve been given the opportunity to present my research at a conference in Boston (expenses-paid). I’ve also been asked by a journalist to provide comments about a research article I co-authored, and I’ve twice-participated in a research speaking competition called the Three Minute Thesis (a competition in which participants have just 3 minutes to provide an engaging and entertaining talk about their research in front of an audience). As a result of participating in this year’s Three Minute Thesis competition, all contestants were asked if they would like to give a 3-5 minute talk at TEDxPerth. Of all contestants who expressed their interests, four were chosen.

Given the brief, I thought it was appropriate to use my Three Minute Thesis competition script. However, when I arrived at the TEDxPerth venue, I knew I had to change my tack in order to engage an audience in a noisy environment that wasn’t conducive to giving presentations. I knew I couldn’t follow a pre-planned script, and had to think on my feet. In the end, I managed to draw a crowd of people around (and in the level above) me. There were nods of agreement throughout my short presentation, and applauses at the end. While I did not get the honour of presenting in centre stage, I was humbled by the experience nonetheless.

I aim to complete my PhD in early 2015. While my career in academia is yet to officially begin, I can certainly see an exciting career ahead of me. Who knew that pursuing an academic career could present so many different opportunities – even as a PhD student? I encourage you all to consider a career in academia, for it can present wonderful opportunities and unique challenges that you may not otherwise get to experience. I believe my TEDxPerth experience is just the start of what’s to come – and I’m sure fellow academics reading this can concur that academia is certainly a career of many opportunities.”



Kenny is a PhD candidate at Curtin University in Western Australia and a practising pharmacist. His current research looks at understanding health consumers’ needs so that future research can be done to help consumers find relevant, reliable and easy-to-comprehend health information online. He is also the founder of the WA Pharmacists’ Discussion Forum.



Twitter: @KennyPharmPhD –





‘18 minutes’:

‘Research article’:

‘Three Minute Thesis’: