Student gives presentation at Three Minute Thesis competition

A student presents their research, titled "Disease Diagnosis at our Fingertips," at the Three Minute Thesis international competition.

Disease diagnosis from oils on fingertips, the history of orchestral music selection and mapping the cosmos by “eavesdropping” with radios—all of this research was presented by graduate students at the University of Kansas’ Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Sayuri Niyangoda took first with her speech, entitled “Alzheimer’s Disease through the Eyes of a Fish.” She won $500 and the opportunity to represent the University at the regional 3MT competition, held in Chicago, Illinois, in March. Niyangoda also won the people’s choice award, winning an additional $125. In second place, Kalin Baca took home $250 with her presentation, “Recycling Refrigerants to Reduce Global Warming.”

The competition took place over multiple days, with preliminary heats on Nov. 1 and the final round on Nov. 9 at Burge Union featuring 11 finalists. Dozens of speeches were given by graduate students from several departments across campus, including chemistry, bio-engineering and psychology.

Founded by the University of Queensland, Australia, 3MT tasks graduate students to distill their research down to a three-minute speech, making it comprehensible for individuals with no expertise in their field. Jennifer Roberts, KU’s vice provost for academic affairs and graduate studies, said the competition provides graduate students with an opportunity to step outside their comfort zones.

“It really helps them find ways to communicate the importance of their research…with people who aren’t experts in the field,” Roberts said. “As graduate students and professors, we’re usually very, very specialized in talking with and using language that is pretty exclusive and doesn’t let a lot of people in, so this really challenges our students to think about how to really communicate out to the community.”

Katie Childers, a competitor and doctoral student in bioengineering, said that for her, the benefits of 3MT go far beyond the competition itself.

“[It’s] definitely something that now I can take with me in the future… to job interviews, or take it to my family who might want to learn about my research,” Childers said. “I can now use this to easily talk to anybody about my research.”

Each round of the competition was judged by a panel of three judges with various experience and backgrounds. Among the pool were a KU professor of African-American Studies, a member of the Kansas City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Executive Director of the Lawrence Public Library.

Britt Crum-Cano, the economic development director for the City of Lawrence and a final round judge, was struck by the importance of the research presented in speeches.

“I thought they were very good. They were very intriguing,” Crum-Cano said. “It’s encouraging to see students working on a lot of research that… could really impact the future of humanity.”