Three Minute Thesis: Prescribing Music for Surgery

Dean of the Griffith Graduate Research School, Professor Sue Berners-Price and winner of the 2015 Three Minute Thesis Challenge Courtney Williams. Photo by Janelsa Ouma

The winner of Griffith’s 2015 Three Minute Thesis Challenge is Courtney Williams, a HDR candidate at the Queensland Conservatorium who is researching how to select and compose the most appropriate music to help people undergoing surgery.

Courtney’s presentation “Prescribing Music for Surgery” explained how her research into compositional elements helps medical professionals better understand how to treat their patients using music.

Courtney says her musical background as a composer gives her research a unique edge in her field.

“I’m really looking into the nitty gritty of compositional elements. Things like melodies, harmonies and instruments can be manipulated to work better in different situations.

“Even the body’s internal rhythms can sync up with rhythms in the music. This can bring the patient’s heart rate and breathing down to healthier levels.

“Doctors and nurses are often so busy and have a lot to worry about, so if they only have a rudimentary knowledge of music it’ll be impossible for them to select the right composition.

“My research will allow doctors to tell a musician ‘I need a piece of music that includes all these elements and avoids all of these ones’, meaning they can give the patient music that’s more likely to help them.”

Courtney is the first researcher to look at how music can help people undergoing surgery from a compositional perspective.

“There have been studies where they’ll test the effect of music on people undergoing different types of surgery, but a lot of them don’t have any input from musicians. They don’t look at the different elements of music and how they can interact and override each other.”

During the three minute challenge, each contestant must explain the significance of their research in a way which makes it interesting and engaging to a non-specialist audience.

As the first place winner, Courtney has won a thousand dollars and represented Griffith at the Trans-Tasman finals at the University of Queensland last Friday.

For Courtney, winning the competition has helped her to better communicate her research. She says she is excited at the opportunity to travel to conferences and learn from other people in her field to further develop her research.

“I’m looking to empirically test my compositions in the future based on the research I’ve done. It’s lifelong research; I can see years of different projects ahead.

“Music is really powerful in what it can do and I’m just glad I can use my musical skills to help people.”

The 2015 runner up for Griffith’s Three Minute Thesis was nursing student Georgia Tobiano, for her presentation titled ‘Patient participation in nursing care’. David Harman from the School of Natural Sciences took out the People’s Choice award for his presentation “Epidemic modelling: dealing with uncertainty” onresearching formulas to predict the progress of epidemic diseases.