Graduate student research took center stage at Rice’s first-ever Three Minute Thesis competition, or 3MT, Friday, March 9.
Inside the Moody Center’s intimate theater, 10 students, six from the school of engineering, had just three minutes and a single slide to present a compelling oration on their thesis and its significance. Representing mechanical engineering were Andrew Erwin, advised by Marcie O'Malley, and Arti Qormemeti, advised by Andrew Meade.
3MT was designed to cultivate students’ research communication skills while celebrating their ground-breaking work. The office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) had previously held a competition called “90 Second Thesis” which was retired in favor of the 3MT model.
Kiri Kilpatrick, associate director for graduate student development, said that many factors led to GPS’ adoption of the 3MT model.
“One of the biggest factors is that this is a global competition,” she said. “It provides an opportunity for students to have their work showcased on a larger scale.”
“This format really allows students more time to develop a scientific argument and communicate how they do the research,” she added.
"It was a great experience transforming my thesis into a 3-minute talk," said Erwin. "This will be very helpful in the future for job talks, conferences, and talking to friends. At the time of the 3MT, I was also submitting postdoctoral fellowship applications and I found it particularly helpful in going between the proposal and my talk. In the end, they both influenced each other positively."
Qormemeti agreed. "Right now I'm in the process of writing my MS thesis, and I come back to the thought patterns and explanations I devised while I was preparing for my 3MT presentation," he said.
Competitors received professional coaching from the Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication (CWOVC), and went through a preliminary round where they received feedback from judges before moving onto the main event.
“The multiple coaching sessions with CWOVC has immensely helped me in crafting the story I wanted to narrate to the audience,” said Aswathy Girija, third-year graduate student in electrical and computer engineering (ECE). “My sessions were with non-STEM people and that particularly helped me brainstorm analogies and metaphors I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.”
Arun Mahadevan, a fifth-year bioengineering graduate student, took the top honor and was awarded $1,000 for his presentation, “The Social Network of Stem Cells.” As part of his prize, GPS will fund his travel to compete in the southern regional competition of 3MT in February 2019. He also received the Alumni Choice Award, taking home an additional $500.
Runner-up Thomas Clements of BioSciences presented his work, “Innovations in Gene Editing: ExoCas9,” and received a $500 prize.
Thasneem Banu Frousnoon of Chemistry won the GSA Choice Award for her presentation, “New Approach to Characterizing Oxidosqualene Cyclases in Secondary Metabolism.” Frousnoon also received $500.
Yvette Pearson, associate dean of engineering and a judge at the event, said the quality of the presentations was outstanding.
“I told many of the contestants afterward that this was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do; judging so many high-quality presentations was a huge challenge,” she said. “I commend the students and the CWOVC team who helped them prepare for the event; the effectiveness of the verbal and non-verbal communication was exceptional.”
3MT was established by the University of Queensland in 2008 as part of an effort to encourage graduate students to develop their skills in communicating their research. The competition is held at over 200 universities in 18 countries around the world.
Mahadevan said his advice to students thinking about participating in the next competition would be, “Why not?”
“I like to think of the challenge as putting looks of comprehension on the faces of your audience, and not befuddlement,” he said. “You get plenty of excellent help, a video clip that you can use in professional profiles and it’s a chance to win some money!”
Girija said she enjoyed the competition and appreciated the chance to learn about the work other students are doing.
“[3MT] has helped me greatly to polish my science communication and public speaking skills,” she said. “I would highly recommend all the graduate students to consider participating in 3MT at least once.”
Along with Pearson, Michael Maher of the Association of Rice Alumni and the Center for Energy Studies of the Baker Institute, Ann Tanabe, CEO of BioHouston, B.J. Almond of Rice News, and Lora Wildenthal, associate dean of humanities also served as judges.
“I was truly honored to be among the judges for the inaugural 3MT event at Rice,” said Pearson. “I’m looking forward to next year, and am hoping to see more students get involved.