ACC Brings Three Minute Thesis Competition to Capitol Hill

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Thirteen students, each armed with a few slides and years of research under their belts, filed into the Rayburn House Office Building in the nation’s capital yesterday to present their findings in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s first annual Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT).

For one nerve-wracking hour, the master’s and Ph.D. students representing universities in the ACC captivated an audience of four judges and mostly congressional staffers with their findings on topics ranging from the mislabeling of fish in the southeastern United States to off-the-shelf, tissue-engineered vascular grafts.

Monica Arul Jayachandran, a civil engineering doctoral student from the University of Notre Dame, earned the first-place prize and the People’s Choice award with her presentation “Occupant Comfort in High-Rise Buildings.” Ciera Cipriani, a master’s student from North Carolina State University, was the runner-up for her project “Shapely Molecules Prevent Dyeing Dangers.” Third place went to Carolyn Roberts, a mechanical engineering and aerospace doctoral student from the University of Virginia. She piqued the onlookers’ interest with her findings about “Sex Differences in Automotive Injury.” The winners received cash prizes.

Francisco Quintero, a Georgia Tech materials science and engineering Ph.D. student and the runner-up in Tech’s competition in December, was among yesterday’s presenters with his research, “Solid Lithium Batteries and How to Deal with a Diva.”

Georgia Tech organized yesterday’s competition with assistance from ACC schools. The event was part of a day of activities designed to expose the students to professional development and research advocacy opportunities. During two panel discussions, the students heard from lobbyists and representatives from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the World Bank. The agenda also included a tour of Capitol Hill and meetings with congressional staff from the students’ home states.

But the highlight of the day was the 3MT competition inside the U.S. House of Representatives’ Rayburn building, where participants had the chance to sharpen their research communications skills. Patterned after the University of Queensland’s 3MT competition in Australia, they delivered a summary of their thesis or dissertation in three minutes or less, in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.

The students were judged on their ability avoid scientific jargon and effectively describe key results, including conclusions or outcomes of their research. The judges critiqued their ability to engage the audience by conveying enthusiasm, good stage presence, and eye contact.

Bonnie Ferri, vice provost for Graduate Education and Faculty Development at Georgia Tech, was the event’s lead organizer.

"It's so inspiring to think that the research that each of these graduate students presents during the 3MT Competition could one day change the world," Ferri said. "Since we launched the Georgia Tech version of the competition in 2015, we've watched the popularity grow. So, I’m thrilled to join forces with fellow ACC institutions to offer winners from across the conference another opportunity to share their research with the public and further hone their communication and presentation skills."

The 3MT competition was established by the University of Queensland around the time when Queensland was suffering from a severe drought. Residents were encouraged to time their showers to conserve water, prompting many people to use three-minute egg timers to track the time, according to the university. A dean of the school borrowed the three-minute idea and combined it with his desire to shine a spotlight on the importance of cultivating students’ research presentation and communications skills.

Today, the 3MT competition is held at over 600 universities across more than 65 countries, including dozens in the United States.



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