Three Minute Thesis Competition – a great opportunity for graduate students to stand out

The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) is kind of a speech contest for graduate students. They talk about their research (thesis) in three minutes with only one slide. It is not a conference-like talk, but rather a speech; they don’t introduce themselves in the presentation, there is no Q&A session afterward, and they are disqualified if the presentation exceeds three minutes. 3MT started in the University of Queensland and expanded to other universities including Purdue. Purdue Graduate School organizes this exciting event every Spring, where a big number of Purdue graduate students participate every time. (for more information, see Purdue 3MT website).

I learned about this event from Dr. Linda Mason, the Dean of the Graduate School. She is a science communication professional and offers graduate seminars/workshops every semester. Just like other students, I was so attracted by her passions and the way she talked in the seminars. That was the time I started thinking about participating in 3MT. But it seemed to be a big challenge – talking in public is definitely out of my comfort zone, and as an international student, I thought I was already having a linguistic disadvantage. I shared this feeling with my fiance – hey, I kind of want to try this, but I don’t know if I can do it. Then he, without trying to encourage me or anything, just went straight to the Purdue 3MT webpage and registered me.

The preliminary round was just me talking in a regular classroom in front of three judges. The absence of a big public audience minimized my nervousness. Luckily, or maybe thanks to the fridge in my apartment that was listening to my practice every night, I was selected as a finalist among 100 participants.

Unlike the preliminary round, the final took place in the newly-built, huge auditorium in the Wilmeth Active Learning Center. I thought I would be extremely nervous but my confidence level had increased since being selected as a finalist. My friends came to watch me, and I tried to do the power posture to just pretend that I was a superwoman (if you haven’t watched Dr. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, I highly recommend it for those who have low self-confidence like me). And the miracle happened; I was placed second among the eleven finalists. That was one of the few experiences (or maybe the only one) where I’ve been under the spotlight. I felt even a little shy on the stage.

Purdue Three Minute Thesis Competition 2018. All the eleven finalists and Dr. Linda Mason (left).

This all happened last year, April 2018; but, the story didn’t end. Earlier this year of 2019, I received an email from one of the 3MT organizers saying “would you be interested in participating in the Midwest Three Minute Thesis Competition in St Louis?” I didn’t wait for a second to say yes.

I couldn’t make another miracle happen in my second 3MT experience. There were 40+ students representing each university in the Midwest, and all the talks were high-level. Some talks were even entertaining to make the audience laugh. Although I didn’t make it to the final, it was a wonderful experience to see all the talks and interact with the participants. I couldn’t believe that Purdue provides such a fantastic opportunity for a student like me.

The Midwest Three Minute Thesis Competition 2019 held in St. Louis. Representatives of Midwestern universities.

Waiting for my returning flight at the St. Louis airport, I was writing a thank-you email to the Purdue 3MT organizers who sent me to St. Louis. Then, one of them asked me, “would you be interested in being a judge in Purdue 3MT this year?” Wow, my 3MT journey never ends.

People at Purdue are respectful and inclusive, both students and faculty/staffs. I feel all the students (both domestic and international students) are equally treated and respected, and I believe this is a very important factor when you choose graduate school. Furthermore, there is plenty of opportunities where you can challenge yourself, stand out and grow as a professional researcher. 3MT is just one of many opportunities. I can’t wait to see what’s coming up next in my graduate life at Purdue!

Experiences as an International Graduate Student Parent at Purdue

Pursuing graduate studies is a big decision for anyone. Unlike their peers, graduate students spend years in graduate school before they start their professional career.  Besides the typical challenges that any graduate student may face, graduate student parents face different challenges, especially if they are international students. Many international students have families and, most likely, young kids.

If you and your spouse are students or you are living with your kid/s alone, a big challenge is choosing a good place to leave your kid/s while you are in school. This place should provide a safe environment, to foster the healthy growth of your child and improve  their academic skills.

There are four daycare centers on the Purdue University- West Lafayette campus. Being on campus,  these centers are convenient options for an easy drop off and pick up. I have experience with three of them, Ben and Maxine Miller Child Development Laboratory school (MCDLS), Purdue Village Preschool (PV Preschool), Purdue University Early Care and Education Center (PUECEC). I am satisfied with my experience with all of them. The teachers and staff are very professional. They provide a safe environment for my kids and the fun activities that each child needs. Those child care centers provide different options for graduate student parents. If both parents are students, the full-time option in MCDLS and PUECEC  are perfect. Before I started my graduate studies, my son used to attend PV Preschool, as it is a part-time preschool. Besides the fact that  it was very affordable, my son had his best moments there, and learned lots of things from his lead teachers and the Purdue student teachers.

It is important to note that once you get your admission letter from the graduate school, you need to look for a daycare for your kids. Don’t wait until you arrive at the campus to look for the right place for your kids. You can register for Purdue daycare through this link https://www.purdue.edu/hr/childcare/Account/Login. Using your Purdue ID, you can add your kids to the waitlist of the daycare. Purdue University opened the Purdue Early Care and Education Center in  August 2016, which helped accept more kids, but it is still necessary to plan ahead of time for your kids.

Also, my son enjoys the after-school programs offered by Purdue daycares. These programs offer extended care for school-age kids. PV Preschool has a wonderful after-school program that is affordable as well for most graduate students (this program will stop by May 2020). PUECEC also has an after-school program where your kids will have lots of fun.

Purdue offers a great summer camp “Boiler Kids Camp, BKC” which offers fun and educational activities for kids 5-12 years old. In BKC, your kids will play different sports, cook, climb, do crafts, play games, learn about science, and do experiments. BKC is on campus which is very convenient. BKC is popular and spots fill quickly, so keep an eye on their website and register your kids as soon as they open the registration. Also, the Gifted Education Resource Institute (GERI) at Purdue offers a fantastic summer experience for kids in Kindergarten through fourth grade. Super summer camp provided my son with hands-on STEM activities.

Pictures of different celebrations in PUECEC (on the left, Persian New Year; on the top right: Day of the Dead (Mexican Holiday); on the bottom right: Chinese New Year.
Jake Guy, Director of PUECEC said “We believe exposing children to a variety of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities will give children a well-rounded representation of others in the Purdue community. Our families are very diverse here at the center from each corner of the United States to other corners of the world! We love to celebrate what makes children and families feel at home and what is important to them!”

As an international student, I understand that it is always a concern as to how to raise your kids in a different country. Finding a balance between being engaged in the community you are living in and preserving your cultural traditions is very important. Since Purdue University has one of the largest international student bodies among the US public universities, Purdue child care centers provide a great experience for international students. Before your kids join those centers, they will ask you to fill a form that has questions about your child, including the special holidays you celebrate. This question shows that these centers greatly respect the diverse cultural backgrounds of their students.

My family was always welcomed to share information about our home country, Egypt. When my son was at MCDLS, we visited the school and shared information about the ancient Egyptians; we wrote the names of my son’s friends and teachers in hieroglyph, the language of ancient Egyptians, and the kids built pyramids with magnetic blocks! A few years ago, when I visited PV Preschool, I showed the kids the lantern “Fanous”, which a representation of celebrating the month of fasting “Ramadan”. These small and simple things make my kids and I feelwelcomed by the community here. It has helped my kids accept that they have a different culture, but they still can celebrate our holidays with their beloved friends. In the PUECEC, kids count numbers in different languages: English, Chinese, Swedish, Arabic and Spanish. This activity encouraged my son to know the numbers in Arabic, our native language, so he can say it correctly  when speaking to  his friends 😊. I think this is a great experience for all kids because it  helps them appreciate diversity early in their life.

My son celebrating  our holiday “Eid al-Adha” with his friends in the MCDLS with a cake shaped like a sheep, “symbol of this holiday”.

Although, the full-time child care centers are sometimes expensive for graduate students, there are resources that may support you. The Purdue Graduate Student Government (PGSG) offers child care grants for eligible graduate students. Another option is the Patty Jischke “Kids are the Future” Endowment scholarship. Those resources help make the child care expenses more affordable.A

As a graduate student parent, you will need support from other graduate student parents. The Graduate Parent Support Network (GPSN) will help you with that. This network will allow you to see others’ experiences and also share your experiences. It will provide you with helpful resources and also, it is a chance to make new friends for you and your kids too. Also, they organize trips to nice places, such as the trip to Indianapolis children’s museum.

Resources:

1- Purdue Child Care Centers Information: https://www.purdue.edu/hr/familyfriendly/purdueChildcare/index.html

2- Purdue Child Care Registration: https://www.purdue.edu/hr/childcare/Account/Login

3- Boiler Kids Camp (BKC): https://www.purdue.edu/recwell/programs/youthFamily/boilerKidscamp.php 4- PGSG Child Care Grant :(https://www.purduegradstudents.com/child-care-grants)

5- Patty Jischke Endowment Scholarship: https://www.purdue.edu/hr/familyfriendly/jischkeEndowment/index.html 6- Graduate Parent Support Network: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/student/families/gpsn.html

7- GERI Supper Summer Camp: (https://www.education.purdue.edu/geri/youth-programs/super-summer