spring 2015 will give faculty research award
winners five minutes to present their work.
The University of Virginia also launched
its 3MT competition in 2013. Amy Clobes,
associate director of professional development at the school, echoes the long-term
benefits to students. Being able to communicate work in a clear and compelling way
to people outside of their disciplines is a
valuable skill to help students collaborate,
secure funding, and apply for jobs, she says.
In addition, she explains that student
competitors exchanged information with
each other and with faculty judges for future
networking and collaboration opportunities.
“This is exactly one of the outcomes we
hoped to foster,” she says.
By a small margin, engineers were the
most highly represented group at the 2013
University of Virginia competition, says
Clobes. Biomedical engineering student
Lindsey Brinton took the top prize with
her presentation on identifying early signs
of pancreatic cancer and advanced to an
international competition, where she won
the people’s choice award.
Brinton explains that in preparing her
presentation, she was “shocked” at how
dependent she had become on discipline-specific jargon. “I realized how poorly I
previously explained my research,” she
says, noting that she now feels empowered
to communicate her work to anyone.
Like Guin, Brinton says participating
helped her refocus on the larger picture of
her work. “I felt reinvigorated as I remembered why I started doing cancer research
in the first place,” she says.
And as Philip Asare, a UVA finalist in the
department of electrical and computer engineering, points out, the better engineers
are able to explain their research to others,
the better they can collaborate to solve the
Go to http://graduate.ua.edu/
events/ 3mt_2013.html and http://
Archive to watch videos of the 2013
winning presentations. Learn more at
Engineering graduate students who try to
explain their research to spouses, friends,
or potential employers run into difficulties when they communicate in jargon to
a nonspecialist audience.
But a competition begun in Australia is
spreading to the US and helping students of
all disciplines more effectively discuss their
work. Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) requires
participants to present a brief summary
of their doctoral, or sometimes master’s,
research in a clear and simple manner using
just one PowerPoint slide.
The University of Queensland started the
competition six years ago. It is now held in at
least 17 countries worldwide and 170 universities, including more than 30 in the US.
This year, the University of Alabama
will be holding its second 3MT competition.
Last year, more than 200 doctoral students
participated. Both the first-place winner and
people’s choice award winner (voted on by
the audience) were engineering students.
Will Guin, a PhD student in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, took home the first
place prize, including a $1,000 scholarship.
His presentation focused on using next-generation carbon nanotubes to reinforce
The competition “sounded like a great
opportunity to develop some of the soft
skills that we as engineers don’t get to do
as much,” says Guin, adding that it was the
first time he had to boil down his research
for a nontechnical audience.
In addition, 3MT provided a way for him
to step back from his work and examine its
broader effect. “It’s a healthier perspective
when you see the global application,” he says.
Guin advanced to the next level, a competition at the Conference of Southern Graduate
Schools annual meeting, where he won the
people’s choice award. About a quarter of
the presentations there were from engineers,
he says, including the winner’s. He believes
engineers have an edge in 3MT, because a lot
of their research is cutting edge, and people
realize it will affect their future.
This year, the University of Alabama is
expanding its competition, expecting 500
participants, including master’s candidates;
recruiting corporate sponsors; and broadcasting on its television network.
But 3MT is more than a one-day event.
Overall, the entire U of A initiative lasts 10
weeks, incorporating preparation and several
rounds of competition. Information sessions
cover crafting an elevator speech and reaching
an audience. The school also offers practice
sessions and a mock competition. “It’s a series
of teachable moments,” says David Francko,
associate provost and graduate school dean.
According to Francko, the competition is
helping the school produce better prepared,
more confident, and more marketable
graduate students. As a result, participants reported the experience helped them
secure jobs, he says.
The competition also allows the school to
highlight the great research happening there,
says Francko. A spin-off effort starting in
Competition pushes engineers to quickly distill research for broad audience.
THE FINALISTS FROM THE 2013 UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA COMPETITION (LEFT TO RIGHT): NEIL PETERSON,
NURSING; PHILIP ASARE, ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING; CHRISTINE MONAGHAN, EDUCATION;
GEORGE CORTINA (RUNNER-UP), BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING; LINDSEY BRINTON (FIRST PLACE), BIOMEDICAL
ENGINEERING; LAURA ALEXANDER, RELIGIOUS STUDIES.