Why is it Crucial for Graduate Students to Participate in the 3 Minute Thesis Competition?

    Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2018
    I wanted to share my experience from participating in the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition held every year at Texas A&M University. Among all the competitions held on campus, I believe 3MT competition is the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding event. Briefly, 3MT is a research communication competition where graduate students have three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis and its significance. 3MT is not an exercise in trivializing or “dumbing down” research, but rather challenges students to consolidate their ideas and research discoveries to present concisely to a non-specialist audience.

    After failing to clear the preliminary round in 2016, when participating in 2017, I learned from my earlier mistakes and spent much time on writing and revising the drafts of my speech.  I advanced to the final competition in 2017 where I won 1stplace in the doctoral category, People’s Choice Award, and was selected to represent Texas A&M at the regional 3MT competition. At the regional competition, there were participants from 48 different universities from the US south region.  I did not win an award at the regional competition, but the experience was highly valuable. I was able to present the research we conduct at Texas A&M in front of provosts, administrators, and distinguished members of various southern universities. I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Following my talk, I was approached by many, that were either head of a department or a college, who appreciated our research and shared words of encouragement. Though I did not win the regional competition, when participating in the Student Research Week at Texas A&M, I presented the same talk from the regional 3MT competition and ended up winning 1stplace in the engineering graduate poster category.

    The Office of Graduate and Professional studies at Texas A&M considers taking part in the 3MT competition a crucial aspect in the professional development of a student. Hence, to help and encourage students to participate in this event, OGAPS organizes multiple development sessions, before the preliminary competition, which are highly beneficial. At these sessions, an officer from OGAPS provides tips on how to structure the talk, design the slide, time the talk, and present with confidence and clarity. Furthermore, there will be a special development session held for all the finalists where OGAPS staff provide comprehensive feedback on the content, slide, talk, and the areas of improvement. This special development session was invaluable to me as I made essential modifications to the content and slide of my talk. Also, the mentors helped me to identify the key points in my talk where I had to focus on the intonation.

    Participating in the 3MT competition was at the top of my to-do list before graduation. This is mainly because of the nature of the competition; first, you should be able to consolidate the motivation, implementation, results, and impact of your research to be presented under three minutes and with a single slide. Second, in the first 30 seconds of your presentation, you should be able to narrate a scenario that helps people to understand and appreciate why your research is important. Furthermore, you should explain the actual work by connecting with people’s experiences, i.e., building on what they already know. Lastly, you should be able to speak eloquently for 3 minutes without using fillers, long pauses, or repeating the words. Hence, the 3MT competition is challenging, but participating in it would significantly boost your confidence.

    Lastly, I would like to thank the people who helped me in winning the competition. I would like to thank Dr. Leonard Bright and Amanda Ray, from OGAPS, for helping me significantly improve the content of my presentation and intonation; my advisor, Dr. Tracy Hammond and the members of the Sketch Recognition Lab for providing feedback on my initial drafts and practice presentations, and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering for always been supportive and encouraging students to compete in these events. Next time when you see an email asking you to sign up for 3MT competition, go for it! Participating in the event itself will make you feel proud.

    Vijay Rajanna
    Department of Computer Science and Engineering

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