Three-minute thesis competition is Tuesday afternoon

Thirty Iowa State graduate students will summarize their research (in three minutes or less) to a non-expert audience next week and compete to represent Iowa State at a similar regional event next April. More than 100 applied for the 30 spots.

The Graduate College's first "3 Minute Thesis" (3MT) event will be on Tuesday, Nov. 15 (2 p.m., 1213 Hoover), and the university community is invited to sit in. While ISU's graduate and professional student senate has included a three-minute competition in its annual spring conference the last few years - and will continue to -- the desire to send an Iowa State entry to Indianapolis on April 7 compelled the Graduate College to organize a fall event, said associate dean William Graves.

The winner will receive a $500 scholarship and an expenses-paid trip to the regional competition. The runner-up and third-place contestants receive $250 and $100 scholarships, respectively.

Why three minutes?

The University of Queensland, Australia, started 3MT in 2008 to help its Ph.D. students effectively -- but concisely -- explain their research in language that nonspecialists in their field understand. Today, 3MT is practiced at universities around the world.

Graves likened it to visiting extended family members over a holiday and trying to explain to them "in an enticing, compelling way what you do.

"It's fun and challenging for students to do that," Graves said.

Graduate students accustomed to preparing long, colorful, perhaps animated slide presentations also are challenged by 3MT's limit of a single, static slide, Graves added.

Other rules of the competition are:

  • A contestant who goes even one second over three minutes is disqualified
  • No props, show-and-tell, singing or performing is allowed
  • No time is built in for questions from the audience or judges

The logistics

Iowa State's 3MT competition will be divided into two halves, with 15 students presenting in each half and a 15-minute break between halves. About a minute lapses between presentations, so audience members won't be allowed to arrive or leave once a half begins. Graves estimated that the second set of presentations will begin around 3:15 p.m.

For those unable to steal away to Hoover Hall, the event will be streamed live online.

A five-member judging team will use a 20-point scorecard that assesses criteria such as clarity of presentation, ability to leave out technical jargon, helpfulness of the slide, ability to engage the audience and oral communication skills such as voice projection and eye contact.

The judging team is:

  • Jane Acker, president, Ames Public Library Board of Trustees
  • Sherry Bates, member, Iowa Board of Regents
  • Dean Borg, program host, Iowa Public Television
  • Amy Mayer, reporter, Iowa Public Radio
  • Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, member, Iowa House of Representatives (District 45)