Campus News

Three Minute Thesis boils down the best of doctoral research

Winners of the 3MT competition.

The top competitors in the 3MT competition were, from left, Philip Odonkor (first place), Camila Rosat Consiglio (third place and the People's Choice Award winner) and Naila Sahar (second place). Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By SALLY JARZAB

Published March 14, 2018

“Most doctoral students spend their days in libraries and laboratories talking to other academics. If research is to have an impact on the broader world — and we hope it does — it has to be communicated.”
Graham L. Hammill, vice provost for educational affairs and dean of the Graduate School

A typical dissertation might contain more than 50,000 words and would take hours to present. What if you have only three minutes?

Participants in last Friday’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition proved that it is not only possible for graduate students to explain their research in that abbreviated timeframe. It’s interesting and entertaining, too.

Hosted by the Graduate School and Blackstone LaunchPad, 3MT challenged UB doctoral students from any discipline to inform an audience what their research is — and why it matters — for a chance to win monetary prizes. Twelve contestants competed during the afternoon event, held in the Center for the Arts Screening Room before a panel of guest judges charged with selecting first-, second- and third-place winners. Audience members voted for their favorite presentation to determine the People’s Choice Award winner.

The 3MT competition was started at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008 and has spread to more than 600 universities across more than 59 countries. This was the second year the event has been offered at UB.

Philip Odonkor took the $1,000 top prize for his presentation titled “Is Your House Smarter Than a Mud Hut?” The answer, from the perspective of this PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is no. During his three minutes onstage, Odonkor explained how his research aims to change that by developing better ways to track people’s energy habits at home. His vision, he said, is the realization of net-zero energy smart buildings.

The polish with which Odonkor and the others delivered their talks was the result of in-depth training provided during workshops offered last fall leading up to the big event. The workshops and a host of other resources were open to those with an eye on a 3MT prize, as well as to any graduate student looking to improve his or her public-speaking skills. Thirty students participated in that first phase. They then had the opportunity to submit video applications to be included among the 12 finalists at the competition.

The practice-makes-perfect approach helped Camila Rosat Consiglio nab the $250 People’s Choice Award for her presentation on how sex hormones play a role in men’s and women’s immune responses, and how those differences could be leveraged when it comes to fighting disease. Rosat Consiglio, who studies immunology in UB’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute Graduate Division, also claimed the third-place judges’ prize of $500.

Second place, a prize of $750, was awarded to Naila Sahar. Her presentation, titled “Who Is a Muslim Woman?” outlined the barrier-breaking research she is conducting as she pursues a PhD in English.

Other contestants were Anne Marie Butler from the Department of Transnational Studies; Alok Deshpande, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering; Joshua Gordon, Epidemiology and Environmental Health; Lynne Klasko-Foster, Community Health and Behavior; Jay Leipheimer, Microbiology and Immunology; Souransu Nandi, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Neeti Narayan, Computer Science and Engineering; James Sackett, Exercise and Nutritional Sciences; and Hao Zhang, Urban and Regional Planning.

Judges were Anthony Chase, theater notable and assistant dean of arts and humanities at SUNY Buffalo State; Laurie Dean Torrell, executive director of Just Buffalo Literary Center; and Anthony Johnson, president and CEO of Empire Genomics and founding partner of Buffalo Biosciences.

Buffalo broadcaster Kevin O’Neill served as master of ceremonies. The UB Gospel Choir performed during the judges’ deliberations. The event was free and open to the public, emphasizing the twin goals of celebrating student research and sharing it with the community at large.

“Most doctoral students spend their days in libraries and laboratories talking to other academics,” said Graham L. Hammill, vice provost for educational affairs and dean of the Graduate School, who, along with President Satish K. Tripathi and Provost Charles F. Zukoski, gave remarks at the event. “If research is to have an impact on the broader world — and we hope it does — it has to be communicated.”