Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

3-Minute Thesis Winners Share Secrets to Success

This year’s 3-Minute Thesis competition showcased seventy-eight of the university’s best and brightest graduate students, and three emerged victorious. First place in the master’s category was Hailey Hodge of the Art department. First place in the doctoral category was Anna Katherine Black, of Clinical Psychology. The grand prize winner was master’s candidate Jessica Heppard, of Biology.

Thesis topics ranged from radioactive light to the fear avoidance model as it applies to migraine and basking behavior of the endangered ringed sawback turtle. All presentations were limited to three minutes, accompanied by a single slide, and the use of notes was strongly discouraged. When it came to presenting their complicated, nuanced research to the judges in such a short period of time, all three winners had a secret to their success.

Jessica Heppard credited succinctness and the ability to make her work understandable to those not well-versed in biology, saying “I made sure to describe the aims and impacts of my study up front and in my concluding remarks to contextualize my work for judges outside of my field.”

Similarly, Hailey Hodge believed her presentation had the potential to capture anyone’s interest, and she took special care to make it something that the judges could enjoy. She said, “I am a very multi-disciplinary artist. With my background in the sciences and my work in the arts, my research appeals to a wider audience than just the art department I study under. I think that because my research is relatable to a broader spectrum of people, through light, cancer, loss of sight, and memory was important in this competition. I’ve been taught the importance of a good story isn’t necessarily in the research, but in how the viewer/reader can personally relate to it. Rather than boring the judges with my process, I decided to tell my story about how and why I make the work I make.”

Anna Katherine Black also knows the importance of telling a good story, as she minored in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama. She said, “A lot has to do with my creative writing background.”

It also helped that she was a finalist last year and was able to go into the competition with a better idea of what the judges were looking for. Per Black, “It’s hard to make migraines exciting and something people want to listen to!” And while she says that she hasn’t had much experience with formal public speaking classes, she did say that “in the department, we have a lot of opportunities to present. I also taught a big 201-level Intro to Psychology class.”

In their time at the university, the winners– all of whom received their undergraduate degrees at other institutions– unilaterally reported feeling encouraged and supported by their respective departments.

“I feel that our department is very open to collaboration,” said Black, “especially my advisor, Dr. Smitherman. He’s very productive and always trying to get his students to engage in more research…Whenever you want to get involved, the department is on board, the professors are on board.”

Hodge also praised the support of her department’s faculty, saying, “I’ve been able to study closely under the faculty on my committee, which is a great aspect of the MFA art program here. The department, as well as the grad school, has helped fund me to go to conferences and shows where my work has been exhibited. I have been given most of the resources I need to experiment with materials and make the work I want to make, and I have 24 hour access to the facilities. I’ve received tons of support here.”

“Everyone is very helpful and welcoming,” said Heppard, who received her bachelor’s degree at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. “Gotta love that southern hospitality!”

Two of the three winners are keeping their plans for the future open, but Anna Katherine Black has a multi-step plan for her career. It involves applying for internships, going through the interview process, graduating, taking an internship, and doing post-doctoral research in psychology. She hopes to work with adults with medical and psychological conditions specifically comorbid conditions in which medical issues have a causal relationship with psychological issues, and vice versa. Examples of comorbid medical/psychological conditions include chronic pain and depression, anxiety and insomnia, and PTSD and substance abuse. We look forward to good things from Sheppard and Hodge as well!


Jessica Heppard:

Hailey Hodge:

Anna Katherine Black:


by Katelyn Miller