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Graduate students earn honors for making research understandable, enjoyable in 3 minutes or less

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016


MANHATTAN — Communicating an 80,000 word thesis in three minutes sounds like a challenge, but Kansas State University graduate students proved they were up to the task in the university's first Three Minute Thesis competition.

Thirty graduate students participated in the event, Feb. 16-17, with 10 graduate student advancing to the final round on Feb. 17, where they refined their complex science dissertations and theses into three-minute speeches they hoped were understandable and entertaining for the audience and the panel of judges.

Ryan Schmid, doctoral student in entomology from Kingsley, Iowa, won first place for his presentation on capturing Hessian flies using a smart-trap design and the process of deploying the flies once they are captured.

Bondy Valdovinos Kaye, a master's student in mass communications, Topeka, won second place for his research explanation on how competition in the digital music aggregation industry is structured.

Winning the People's Choice Award was Jere Noel, a master's student in animal science, Wichita, who explained her research on identifying causes of fatigue in pigs using electromyography.

Along with the time limit, finalists had to make their presentations from memory — no notes allowed — and could use just one slide in front of an audience of Manhattan community members and Kansas State University faculty and students. Judges for the event were K-State women's soccer coach Mike Dibbini, president of Grand Mere Development Inc. and K-State alumna Mary Vanier, and state Rep. Sydney Carlin. First place received $500, second place received $250 and the People's Choice Award was $150. 

"The competition has helped me to prepare a condensed version of my dissertation that focuses on the importance of my research," Schmid said. "This is something that is valuable to use during networking at conferences or anytime someone asks about my research. It is an effective exercise to clearly and concisely explain my research."

Aside from being able to effectively communicate the significance of their research in three minutes or less, the competition was a way show the importance of being able to communicate well with people outside of the participants' disciplines.

"Sharpening public speaking skills is always useful, but the competition was an especially useful exercise in condensing complicated ideas and communicating them in a meaningful way," Kaye said. "If I choose to work in the industry I am studying, rather than immediately go for a Ph.D., these skills will be a tremendous help in convincing future employers I actually know what I'm talking about and not just throwing terms and ideas at them with no grounding in reality."

Studies show there's a growing trend for employees to be able to communicate highly complex information in a way that can be understood by anyone. The Three Minute Thesis competition gives the graduate students the experience to do just that. Being able to condense research in a way that can be easily understood also is a marketable skill, whether the students stay in academia or a pursue a job in industry, said John Ruberson, professor and head of the university's entomology department.

"Our goal as graduate educators must be to make not just effective researchers, but effective communicators of that research," Ruberson said. "In an age when jobs can be scarce and where the public needs to understand and value our work more than ever before, these skills are becoming increasingly critical. And with the brief spans of attention and compressed schedules of so many busy people, we don't have much time to sell ourselves and the great work that we do."

As the first-place winner, Schmid will represent Kansas State University in the 2016 Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools' Three Minute Thesis Competition, April 6-8, in Chicago.

The other seven finalists who presented at the Kansas State University competition were Matthew Galliart, master's student in biology, Hutchinson; Jared Crain, doctoral student in genetics, Woodward, Oklahoma; and Jessica Thomson, doctoral student in entomology, Allen, Texas; Chen Peng, doctoral student in microbiology, and Xi Chen, doctoral student in mechanical engineering, both from China; Regina Enninful, doctoral student in agronomy, Ghana; and Marcus Olatoye, doctoral student in agronomy, Nigeria.

Three Minute Thesis is an academic competition first developed by the University of Queensland of Australia. Competitions are now conducted at more than 170 universities in 17 countries.


Three Minute Thesis

News tip:

Hutchinson, Topeka and Wichita, Kansas; Kingsley, Iowa; Woodward, Oklahoma; and Allen, Texas.

Written by

Kelsey Peterson