Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs hosts Three Minute Thesis competition

Doctoral students allowed to present theses, if briefly

The Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs hosted the final of Three Minute Thesis Competition Monday in the Harrison Institute & Small Special Collections Library. This academic competition challenges doctoral students to describe their dissertations within three minutes to a general, non-specialized audience.

Associate Director of Professional Development Amy Clobes, the primary organizer of the 3MT Competition, said the purpose of the event is twofold.

“First, the competition aligns with our aim to provide U.Va graduate students with leading training and education, including the essential communication skills that are gained through participation in the competition,” Clobes said. “Second, the competition highlights the innovative and premier research that is driven by the work of graduate students at UVa in a uniquely accessible way.”

Music graduate student Gretchen Carlson, who earned the $500 third place prize for her work on the shifting perceptions of jazz from commercial films, echoed Clobes on the benefits of the competition.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn how to get people excited about your work, which is necessary in academia,” Carlson said. “The pressures of a time limit and memorization are good challenges. We don’t always have to deal with those pressures while teaching in classrooms.”

Eight advanced doctoral graduate students in various disciplines ranging from music to chemical engineering were selected from an initial pool of 20 entrants to compete in the final.

All students participated in a round of preliminary heats, where they presented their 3MT to a small panel of judges, Clobes explained. The top presentation of each of the preliminary heats then advanced as finalists.

The judges gave the $1000 first-place prize to Chemical Engineering graduate student Joanna Adadevoh for her presentation entitled “Can Bacteria with a Sense of Smell Provide Clean Drinking Water?”

Adadevoh expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate and succeed amongst a talented group of participants.

“I was so excited and felt blessed to have won,” Adadevoh said. “All the 3MT finalists did an amazing job in conveying their PhD thesis in three minutes so I was truly grateful to win.”

Adadevoh’s research focuses on chemotactic bacteria, which have a sense of smell enabling them to locate oil contaminants trapped in sand particles as a result of oil spills. The bacteria can then degrade the oil contaminants, minimizing their effect on drinking water.

Based this research, scientists and engineers could potentially also use chemotactic bacteria to clean up oil spills in shorter amounts of time.

Adadevoh said she chose to participate to develop her professional communication skills.

“Usually when a graduate student has an interview with a company, one of the questions the interviewer asks is "tell me about your research",” Adadevoh said. “And I thought the 3MT competition would be a good way to practice for such questions.”

Carlson, whose project is titled, "A Jazz Thing: Jazz-Film Interactions and the Shaping of the Jazz Art World, 1980-Present,” noted the networking opportunities 3MT provides to the participants.

“It was so great to hear research from everyone else across disciplines,” Carlson said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m holed up in my own building and I need to get out more. This event was a good way to make initial connections that I can follow up with later.”

Aerospace Engineering graduate student Qi Zhang, winner of both the $750 second place prize and the $500 Audience Choice award, presented a thesis titled, "Currently no dummies in these rollover crashes — to develop the first rollover crash test dummy."

Zhang focused on developing a dummy that will mimic the responses of the human body to a crash in which the car rolls over.

“It’s a serious issue in the United States,” Zhang said. “Manufacturers use hybrid-free crash dummies designed in 1970s. The problem is the human body is so complicated that the crash dummies used in these tests cannot accommodate all kinds of crashes and all human responses.”

Zhang commented on the difficulties of creating a more realistic crash dummy.

“It’s very challenging because a roll-over crash is a long event and the human body has gone through a lot of maneuvering, ” Zhang said. “In the future we’ll do volunteer, live human tests and eventually combine cadaver and live human data to create a statistical model.”

Clobes said the competition was even better this year than in the past.

“I am pleased to say that the event has gotten better and better each year we have been holding it,” Clobes said. “The quality of our doctoral students’ 3MT presentations has always been exceptional, and this year was no different.”

Noting steady increases in the number of entrants and event attendees, Clobes said she expects the competition to experience continued success in the coming years.

“As the competition continues to catch hold among the greater University community, we think it will continue to grow and become the premier research competition for doctoral students at the University of Virginia,” Clobes said. 

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