Three Minute Thesis Competition – a great opportunity for graduate students to stand out 0

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!

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Akane Ota is a PhD student in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resouces at Purdue University.

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