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Three-minute mania

Twenty-four UND graduate students to compete in communication contest showcasing their research

Matthew Gilmore
UND Three Minute Thesis co-organizer Matthew Gilmore works with UND graduate students to prepare for the April 7/10 competition. Photo courtesy of Max Mueller.


 3MT® Preliminary Competition: April 7 at the Gorecki Alumni Center, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (Start times for the three heats are 9 a.m., 10:25 a.m., and 11:45 a.m., with doors opening 15-20 minutes prior.)

3MT® Final Competition and Awards Ceremony: April 10 at the Gorecki Alumni Center, 1 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. (Doors open 12:40 p.m.)

Guests are encouraged to arrive 15-20 minutes prior to the official start times (noted above) of the events to avoid interrupting the competitive presentations.

The Story

You can do a lot with 180 seconds and a single visual aid. But could you explain months of deep and intricate academic exploration to someone with no background in your field?

That’s the challenge at hand for 24 UND graduate students participating in the first UND Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition starting April 7 at the Gorecki Alumni Center. The event will allow masters and doctoral students to showcase their research and/or creative work to the UND campus and Grand Forks community.

3MT® is a research communication competition in which graduate students have three minutes to compellingly and clearly present the significance and value of their research—whether thesis or dissertation—in language accessible to a non-specialist audience.

“The students are allowed one visual,” said Matthew Gilmore, UND associate professor of atmospheric sciences and co-organizer of the event. “That visual could be a diagram, photograph or collage that is interesting to the audience and supports the speech.”

In addition to their supporting visual, competitors will be judged on how well they capture the attention of the audience, how engaged they are with the audience, how much energy they bring to the presentation and how clearly they articulate their ideas.

“It’s actually quite a challenge for two reasons,” Gilmore explained. “It’s easier to get up and give an hour-long talk to one’s department or research colleagues because you have more time to go into the details and can use jargon to convey complex ideas. It’s much harder to distill your research to only three minutes, because not only do you have to determine the most important message, but you also have to find different words or analogies, in place of jargon, that will resonate with your layperson audience.”

Competitors were selected by their graduate program directors in academic areas ranging from English to engineering. Many have practiced and received feedback from trainers and fellow students over the past five weeks.

The competition will be held in three preliminary heats (Friday April 7). The finalists from those heats will compete again at a final heat (April 10) and will be rated by the audience for the “People’s Choice” award.  Judges will select first and second place.

Gilmore said this is one new and important way UND is helping its graduate students prepare for their professional and academic lives.  The 3MT® experience jumpstarts the kind of concise and impactful conversation needed for job interviews following graduation.

The competition

3MT® is a growing and significant competition throughout the nation and world, originally developed by The University of Queensland (Australia). It is especially important as an act of public scholarship highlighting the exciting research of UND’s graduate students to various UND stakeholders.

In addition to enhancing the students’ ability to communicate the importance of their research to various publics, the competition will also provide student participation incentives—including cash awards provided by UND’s School of Graduate Studies.

The UND 3MT® is proudly co-sponsored by UND School of Graduate Studies and the Division of Research & Economic Development. To learn more about the UND 3MT® event, visit the UND School of Graduate Studies website.

— Juan Pedraza, with the UND Research & Economic Development division, contributed to this report.