Three Minute Thesis competition helps graduate students be better communicators

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Graduate student Concordia Lo presenting her thesis project in just three minutes in layman’s terms. Lo was the first place winner and also received the Presenter’s Choice award. (Graduate Student Society)

The BYU Graduate Studies program hosted a Three Minute Thesis competition on March 11 which helps students effectively communicate their research and how it can impact the world.

BYU Graduate Student Society president Ted Piorczynski said the original 3MT competition was founded by the University of Queensland in Australia. The first BYU 3MT competition took place over five years ago after graduate students expressed a desire to compete.

Assistant dean of graduate studies James Crane said the graduate program chose to sponsor the Three Minute Thesis competition for several reasons. The main reason was to help the graduate students develop the communication skills that will allow them to present their research and passion to a lay audience.

Piorczynski said for students to qualify to participate in the event, they must pass department and/or college qualification rounds. Each college on campus can only nominate one student to represent them at the university-wide 3MT final competition.

“While the specific selection processes vary from college to college, only the top candidates make it through to the university finals,” Piorczynski said.

The first-place winner and recipient of the Presenter Choice award this year was Concordia Lo, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Her thesis is on the synthesis of Yaku’amide A, a promising anticancer peptide isolated from a marine sponge.

“Being able to effectively communicate our research provides opportunities to learn of new problem-solving approaches and development of innovative ideas,” Lo said.

While Lo was preparing for the competition, she said she realized the best presentations she had attended in her life were the ones she could relate to. She worked hard to make sure her presentation was easy for anyone to understand her thesis.

“As graduate students, we easily get caught up in our own projects in our fields of study. But research is a collaborative and interdisciplinary field,” Lo said.

Lo had to overcome many challenges throughout her research. “Some of these challenges took months and even years to solve. But being able to summarize my research in three minutes taught me that challenges are just small steps we must take towards success,” she said.

The event was only available live for the participants and the judges, Piorczynski said. However, the presentations will be uploaded to the Graduate Student Society YouTube channel as soon as possible.

Crane believes the virtual event gave students another challenge to overcome. “Given that the 3MT competition focuses on communication, doing so effectively through a virtual lens is compelling in its own right,” he said.

Lo said she finds it awkward to enthusiastically present her research to a non-responsive computer screen. “Despite this, I am so very grateful to the departments, colleges and BYU Graduate Studies for hosting the 3MT competition this year in the best way they could.”

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