Doctoral students typically spend between one to two hours defending the research they've dedicated about four to six years of their lives to. Naoko Uno, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia, had to summarize her entire research in just three minutes.
Uno won the 2018 Three Minute Thesis competition, an annual competition for masters and doctoral students to communicate their research in just three minutes. On Feb. 25, the graduate school is holding an information session for interested students to learn more about 3MT.
The competition provides students with more than just a chance to win a cash prize. It allows students to develop their presentation and research communication skills.
Uno said she feels her participation positively affected how she thinks and talks about her research.
“After I did my Three Minute Thesis, a lot of people asked me different questions, and it kind of gave me ideas and made me think about things I hadn’t really thought about before,” Uno said. “It was really helpful. I’ve been giving talks at different … conferences. And so that has also really helped me be able to be confident in speaking.”
Uno, who is studying in the Department of Infectious Diseases, said she first learned of 3MT through a class in her department. Despite participation in the competition not being a class requirement, Uno said she thought being part of 3MT would help her professionally.
“Because we do work [in the department] with a lot of vaccines and public health, it’s really important for us to be able to communicate our science to the lay people,” Uno said.
In addition to professional reasons, Uno said 3MT was somewhat similar to one of her hobbies: music.
“With the Three Minute Thesis, you really do only have three minutes. You do kind of have to block out your timing and everything, kind of like playing music,” Uno said.
Gloria Howerton, a graduate research assistant who helps with the organizational work behind 3MT, said during the information session interested students can interact with former 3MT winners and ask any questions they may have.
A panel of judges selects a winner from each preliminary round, with a total of ten finalists competing for the grand prize of $1,000.
Howerton, who helped with last year's 2018 3MT competition, said she felt proud pulling all of the preparations together in a quick turnaround time.
“[In] the workshop that we do with finalists, I could prepare them. They learn things like how to give a really good and concise three-minute presentation without relying on note cards. Things like stage presence are taught, how to communicate to a really general audience,” Howerton said. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes on between each round. And so it’s really great when everything just kind of blends smoothly.”
Harrison Bergeron is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Infectious Diseases at UGA. Bergeron said he plans to compete in this year’s 3MT after hearing about it in a departmental retreat.
“Being that I didn’t have a whole lot of data to present, I thought it would be a unique opportunity to still be able to practice my oral skills without necessarily having to go into the minutiae and nuance of my research,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said he liked the idea of being able to communicate his science effectively and is one of the reasons he decided to compete in 3MT.
“Scientists are notoriously bad at public relations. There’s really no infrastructure to teach scientists good communications,” Bergeron said. “So beyond the science, my interest is being able to translate my research that I want to do, to the public. And whether that’s at a stakeholder or shareholder level … or even just being able to sit next to somebody on an airplane and being able to effectively communicate my research and science in general.”
While the competition is mainly about communicating science in a condensed time, Howerton said it’s a wonderful experience to hear what students from different disciplines are working on.
“I think we tend to get stuck in our own academic bubbles ... Seeing interesting and innovative work being done by our peers in other departments is just a really wonderful opportunity,” Howerton said.
Uno agreed that 3MT is a good opportunity to learn what other majors are working on.
“It’s so cool to see what everyone else is working on. Because, especially in grad school, we’re all just in our little bubble and we don’t really know what anyone else is doing,” Uno said. “And so, it’s really great to see what the art majors are doing, or what the history majors are doing.”
Since the 3MT finals are open to the public audience, there’s even more significance to the competition than just finding out what fellow graduate students are working on.
“Three Minute Thesis really helps … the public see all the great research and discoveries that are going on at UGA,” Uno said.