In a world of pseudoscience and misinformation, Purdue graduate students champion effective research communication

Purdue's 2022 3MT Competition Winners: Peyman Yousefi, (People's Choice Award Winner), Christopher Detranaltes (Winner), Charles Kerby (Runner-Up)  Purdue's 2022 3MT Competition Winners: Peyman Yousefi, (People's Choice Award Winner, Left), Christopher Detranaltes (Winner, Center), Charles Kerby (Runner-Up, Right)

The world is facing tough challenges – whether it be the global health crisis or climate disasters, it is clear that innovative, science-based solutions are needed now more than ever. However, recent history has proven how challenging it can be to communicate scientific discoveries in a way that resonates with the general public. Complex scientific messages are easily misunderstood and can become shrouded in misinformation, resulting in public distrust and, in some cases, the rejection of viable solutions. To combat this issue, the Graduate School is providing opportunities, like the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition, to help graduate students hone their science communication skills.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a university-wide research communication competition that supports the development of graduate students' capacities to effectively explain their research in language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience. During each competition, graduate students have only three minutes and one slide to present a compelling discussion on their research topic, including its significance and relevance to the general public.

"Our graduate students are dedicated to solving today's toughest challenges," shared Dr. Linda Mason, Dean of the Graduate School, "The Three Minute Thesis competition not only provides a platform for our students to share their world-changing research, it also allows them the opportunity to learn how to share it in the most influential and impactful way possible."

This year’s competition included finalists from the Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts, Pharmacy, and Science. Ultimately, Ph.D. student, Christopher Detranaltes, from the College of Agriculture’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, took the top spot. His presentation titled “Harnessing Biodiversity for the Cleaner & Cheaper Agriculture of the Future” addressed the issue of global food insecurity caused by plant diseases.

(Christopher Detranaltes, 2022 3MT Competition Winner)

“…presenting research is always a little anxiety-provoking since you don’t always know where your explanation of things rests on unconscious experience and knowledge that your audience may not be familiar with,” shared Detranaltes, “3MT® was an excellent chance to practice how to communicate a complex research topic across differing levels of expertise. I had to learn how to distill ideas laden with technical jargon into a conceptual framework with only the most relevant key information.” 3MT® was not the only opportunity Detranaltes pursued to hone his science communication skills. He was also a finalist in this year's edition of InnovatED, Purdue's graduate research magazine.   

Second place winner, Charles Kerby, a master’s student in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering, had a similar experience, noting, “It has been a long time since I had to speak in front of a crowd that large (no thanks to the recent global pandemic). The nerves and adrenaline associated with such a short talk reminded me why public speaking can be so difficult, but also so fun.”

(Charles Kerby, 2022 3MT Competition Runner-Up)  

Kerby’s presentation title, “Preserving Vulnerable Buildings: The Earthquake Response of a Novel Wood Infill,” shared a solution for mitigating building damage during earthquakes. “I felt my research had consequences that could affect the general public and saw the 3MT® competition as a fantastic opportunity to share my work,” Kerby shared, “I think every graduate student should try to condense their work into the 3MT® form before graduating. Research must be effectively communicated to the public, and this competition is a unique opportunity to practice.”

The final winner from this year’s 3MT® competition was Peyman Yousefi, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering. Yousefi won the People’s Choice Award, after receiving the most votes from audience members. His presentation titled, “'It Will Never Happen Again': The Myth of Disaster Immunity," focused on how societies collectively remember or forget past natural disasters, and how it affects our resilience against future events. When asked about his experience competing in this year's 3MT® competition, Yousefi shared, "It was such an amazing and adrenaline-rushing experience! It was my first experience of presenting something in front of a big crowd in a language other than my mother tongue."

(Peyman Yousefi, 2022 3MT Competition People's Choice Award Winner)  

"A successful Three Minute Thesis [presentation] must have certain sections… such as a fitting and catchy introduction, a convincing statement about its importance, a simple explanation about the methodology, the main result, and eventually an exciting wrap-up," shared Yousefi, "I challenged myself to see if I can properly communicate my research topic…to the general public while highlighting its importance, novelty, and broader impact. I also wanted to practice my public speaking and science communication skills, which is something that we, as researchers, may sometimes lose sight of its importance in our career."

This year's competitors overcame nerves, language barriers, and complex scientific jargon to craft effective scientific messages, and help share some of the important graduate research currently being conducted at Purdue. "I learned a little bit about the brilliant work going into each of the other competitor’s research. To know we’re alongside one another here at Purdue is incredibly inspiring. I think what I enjoyed most was hearing why each competitor was passionate about their research and how they’re contributing to the next giant leaps in their disciplines," said Detranaltes.

Graduate students who are interested in participating in this competition should visit the Graduate School's Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) website to learn more and submit their draft videos. Competition registration is open year-round.  

Writer: Brittany Ledman

May 11, 2022

More Graduate School News