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‘Three Minute Thesis’ competition challenges NMSU grad students to think fast

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Listening to your favorite song, making a cup of Ramen noodles or returning a phone call. They all can take about three minutes. Now imagine explaining an 80,000-word thesis in that short time frame.

Twenty-one New Mexico State University students took on the challenge in the annual College of Arts and Sciences “Three Minute Thesis” competition to win cash prizes of $250, $500 and $1,000 on Saturday, April 23. The competition supports the development of research candidates’ capacity to communicate their ideas effectively to a wide-range of non-specialist audiences.

Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, welcomed participants and congratulated the winners.

“The ‘Three-Minute Thesis’ competition is a great way to help our students practice presenting their research goals and methods in a public setting,” Pontelli said. “The public presentation helps them to crystalize their focus by briefly explaining why their research is important in a way that is accessible to non-academics.”

Graduate students shared research from different colleges across the campus, taking center stage to demonstrate their command of subjects ranging from water conservation to bitcoin and mosquitoes to growing crops in space.

Anna Harmon, graduate student and research assistant in biology, won first place for her presentation about “The Effects of Hyper gravity on Seed Germination and Root Extensions in Crop Plants.” Harmon's research is focused on ways to grow crops in space. Harmon is a member of the Mvskoke tribe, the prefered reference for the Native American community commonly known as the Creek Nation in Oklahoma.

“I've had a passion for science since my first science fair project in elementary school in 4th grade, which has fueled me to where I am now,” Harmon said.  “I'm also inspired by other researchers in STEM as well as minority groups in STEM. Since I am a member of the Mvskoke tribe, I am motivated to continue in research to help grow minority representation in STEM. As for my current research, I am inspired not only by my advisors and their passions in science, but also science fiction especially as it now becomes reality.”

Student presentations were judged on communication style, comprehension and engagement by a three-judge panel of Ammu Devasthali, NMSU Board of Regents chair, Carol Flinchbaugh, faculty fellow in NMSU’s Graduate School and Amanda Bradford, NMSU director of news and media relations.

Chaturika Bandara, a graduate research assistant in civil engineering, earned second place for her presentation “Future Water: Stay Thirsty or Reuse.” Bandara explained her research into wastewater reclamation processes.

“It was a tough task but it’s a great opportunity for me to present my research to everyone so they can understand what we are doing and the importance of this research,” Bandara said. “I wanted to convey that to the audience. Winning is part of it, but I enjoy doing these kinds of things.”

Each Participant had to deliver their thesis using only a single PowerPoint slide, with no other electronic media, props or costumes permitted.

“It's very difficult to do it because you have you have a very short amount of time to say what you need to,” said Alex Moon, a graduate research assistant and microbiology Ph.D. candidate, whose presentation “Disrupting Glycolysis in Mosquitos to Prevent Malaria,” won third place in the competition. “A lot of our stuff is fairly complicated and we want to express it and explain it. But it’s very difficult to do it within three minutes.”

The first Three Minute Thesis competition was held in 2008 at the University of
Queensland in Australia with 160 graduate students. Enthusiasm for the concept grew and has since been adopted by universities around the world, leading to the development of an international competition.