Three Minute Thesis asks grad students to distill their research

Ever tried to sum up years of research into just three minutes?

Carleton grad students will try to do just that when the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs hosts the Three Minute Thesis competition later this month.

The competition challenges students from many different fields to orally present their own independent research within a strict three minute time limit.

A total of 30 students will compete from many different fields including political science, journalism, business, philosophy, engineering, history, and biology.

“It’s a great way to get graduate students engaged and communicating about their research,” co-ordinator of graduate student services Leah DeVellis said.

“It’s exciting because graduate students don’t often get to share their research with people outside their departments.”

Competing students will present their thesis to a panel of judges that include representatives from the Graduate Students’ Association and Carleton faculty.

The competition is designed to train students to make quick and effective presentations of their research to other professionals and media representatives, according to the event’s website.

Karen McCarthy is a third-year master’s student in biomedical engineering who is participating in the competition.

McCarthy said she was attracted to the competition as an opportunity to hear about research in other fields and also to gain experience with public speaking.

“This sort of event really gets me out of my comfort zone. I’ve given presentations in class before but this is more like giving a monologue to an audience,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said her research focuses on muscle fatigue in piano players by looking at the electrical activity when a muscle contracts.  The purpose is to help understand why more than 60 per cent of piano players end up with injuries, McCarthy said.

McCarthy compared the three-minute thesis competition to trying to explain to her parents what her research is all about.

“It’s not about dumbing it down but presenting in the most clear, concise terms,” she said. “It’s great for making your research understandable for different audiences.”

The rules allow for only a single static PowerPoint slide to be used as a visual aid and absolutely no cue cards.

McCarthy said she is preparing a detailed script to memorize to make the most of her precious three minutes.

Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three students in the competition, with $1000 going to the top student, according to the event website.

The concept for the Three Minute Thesis competition started at the University of Queensland, Australia in 2008 and has since become a major event at universities in that country.

Carleton’s Three Minute Thesis competition will be held on March 26-27.  

The top two students from Carleton’s event will have the opportunity to present their thesis at the provincial competition at Queen’s University in April.