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Groundbreaking research … in 3 minutes or less

Popular competition challenges grad students to sell their work to a general audience
March 26, 2014
By Christian Durand

GRAD-T14-18050-promo-3MT logo for 2014 V1b

Concordia is teeming with graduate students involved in innovative research. And there’s no better place to discover the ideas that will shape our future than at the Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) on April 4.

Now in its third year at the university, 3MT challenges participants to clearly explain what they’re working on in the lab, library or studio to a captive audience in three minutes or less.

Presenters are limited to one slide and cannot use audio, video or other media. The pitches are judged on communication style, comprehension and audience engagement.

“This competition challenges grad students to explain the complex work they are researching in a way that non-specialists can understand,” says Laurie Lamoureux Scholes, director of the university’s Graduate and Professional Skills (GradProSkills) training program, which organizes the event.

Last year’s winner, Navid Sharifi — a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering — faced the daunting task of deciphering his research on superhydrophobic coatings using thermal spray processes for a panel of judges that ranged from industry leaders to communications specialists.

“When I got involved, I thought I would be at a disadvantage because my work is very technical and based in the hard sciences,” says Sharifi. “Plus, I had only really talked about my research with other engineers — never with someone from outside of the field.”

His presentation went through several iterations before the big day. Working with a coach from GradProSkills, he learned the importance of communicating his findings in ways that a general audience could easily relate to.  

That meant hooking the crowd with examples from everyday life. 

“My research is all about a new technology to prevent ice formations, so I introduced the topic by bringing up the ice storm of 1998,” says Sharifi.  “Anyone who lived through the storm can remember how ice accumulation on power lines left millions of people without heat and electricity.”

The result was a presentation that netted him first prize in the competition and a travel grant that took him to a conference in South Korea, where he won best paper for his research.

Today, Sharifi remains a huge advocate for 3MT, which he says benefits participants and audience members alike. “While waiting to present, I got to watch people from fields like psychology and biology talk about their research, and I was blown away by how interesting it all was.”

Lamoureux Scholes is also a big fan of the competition and its unique challenges. “It’s not easy, but with the right coaching and preparation, grad students from any discipline can sell their work to the layperson,” she says.

The Three Minute Thesis Competition takes place on Friday, April 4 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the J.A. DeSève Cinema in Room LB-125 of the J.W. McConnell (LB) Building (1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.).

The winner of this year’s competition will move on to represent Concordia at the Eastern Regional Canadian Association of Graduate Studies Competition on April 24 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The top presenter in the French leg of the competition will compete at the 82nd congress of the Association francophone pour le savoir (Acfas), which takes place at Concordia from May 12 to 16.

Find out more about this year’s Three Minute Thesis Competition.


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