Story by Tyler Carter
During the second annual Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, held in November, graduate students presented thesis and dissertation projects in front of a panel of judges. The goal of the contest is to condense a thesis or dissertation concisely into three minutes and explain it to a nonspecialist audience.
Harish Chander, a doctoral student in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, won the grand prize in 2013. Sujith Ramachandran, a doctoral student in the Department of Pharmacy Administration, was named grand prize winner in 2014 and will represent the University of Mississippi at the national competition in New Orleans.
While this competition highlights the students’ ability to communicate, judges also take time to give constructive criticism to help students better their theses or dissertations. Faculty members Luca Bombelli, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Kirsten Dellinger, Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, served as two of the judges and thought this was an opportunity for students to learn about themselves while presenting.
“In general, the 3MT competition gives students a chance to present their work in front of an audience outside their own department, and all such opportunities are welcome,” Bombelli said. “But more specifically, the format and type of audience in this case are very different from those in other presentations most students give, which are usually much more technical, and students in this competition need to think about what is really essential in their work and how to present it so that people in other fields will be interested in it and understand it.”
Dellinger echoed the sentiments expressed by Bombelli.
“The 3MT competition is a great way for students to practice public speaking and to learn to explain the importance of their theses clearly and succinctly. It’s quite a challenge to be able to do this, and having prepared their presentations for this competition, they will be much more likely to be successful describing their work to employers and interested colleagues in the future.”
With the program being in its infancy here at the University of Mississippi, professors are being encouraged to get their students to participate. Bombelli and Dellinger said they encouraged other students to participate, although some students were required to present.
“Six graduate students from my department registered for the competition,” Bombelli said. Five graduate students from my department actually presented a talk, and three were selected for the next round. I did encourage students in my department to participate, both collectively with emails to the group and in several cases by talking to them individually. I did this mainly because participating benefits my students but also because I am proud of the work they do, and this is an opportunity for students and people in other departments to see some of it.”
“We had several students participate from the M.A. programs in Sociology and Anthropology,” Dellinger said. “They were summer grant award winners, so they were required to participate this year. We will encourage more of our students to participate next year.”
With the students only having three minutes to provide an intensive presentation and catch the judges’ attention quickly, they have to focus on piquing the interest of the judges in order to move to the next round. In his second year of serving as a judge, Bombelli discovered a key element that he believes will help students convey their research in a compelling way.
“I have not shared this yet with my students, but what struck me most, both this year and last year, is that the presentations in other fields that were most effective in catching my attention were ones in which the student told a story. In physics, with our courses and everything else we do, we usually train students to talk about their work by describing their methods and results in a clear and logically organized way. I think that we have a lot to learn from other approaches about effective ways to talk about our work. Just telling a story about it is not enough because the actual work also needs to be described, but we need to learn how to integrate that description in a context that goes beyond starting the talk with a ‘hook.’”