Students Compete to Explain Years of Research in 3 Minutes

PhD students and postdoctoral researchers competed in the School's Three Minute Thesis competition on Wednesday, June 27. The top finishers were, from left, Lisa Walter (third place), Xiaojing Shi (first place) and Jeff Dai (second place). (Photo by Linda Wang)

By Linda Wang

Explain years of complicated research in just three minutes.

That was the challenge taken on by 13 USC School of Pharmacy PhD students and postdoctoral researchers who competed in the School’s second Three-Minute Thesis competition, or 3MT, on Wednesday, June 27.

The 3MT competition began in 2008 at the University of Queensland, Australia, and is now held in over 600 universities and institutions worldwide.

“This competition is important in helping students work on their communication skills and understand what their research is really about,” said organizer Liz Aguiniga, USC School of Pharmacy’s associate director of graduate affairs.

Research topics included new cancer treatment methods, how natural products can be mined to fight superbugs, the effects of toxic chemicals on male fertility and more. By clearly and compellingly describing their theses to a broad audience, presenters brought their projects out of the lab and made the case for why the general public should pay attention.

13 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers competed in the School’s Three Minute Thesis competition on Wednesday, June 27. (Photo by Clay C.C. Wang, PhD)

Communication skills are essential to any career path, but the development of soft skills can be particularly important for scientists — whose research can be viewed as inaccessible at times.

“Communicating our research to the public is part of our responsibility as scientists, “ said third-year PhD candidate Xiaojing Shi. “It will help the public understand how science has made their lives better and appreciate the importance of scientific research.”

Shi’s talk on a novel way to make cancer treatment safer took first place in the competition. Jeff Dai, a second-year PhD candidate, came in second and Lisa Walter, a postdoctoral researcher, finished third.

In addition to the competition, presenters participated in video recordings of their talks. Vanessa Brouard, a postdoctoral researcher, is pictured here before her recording session. (Photo by Isaac Mora)

Competitors were scored by a panel of judges in five areas: overall organization, presentation quality, potential benefit of the research, market opportunity and credibility.

The top three presenters were awarded monetary prizes up to $300.

It is easy to get lost in the details of each project, but the 3MT competition helps students see the bigger picture of what they are working on, Aguiniga said.

Shi echoed the sentiment: “I learned the importance of telling a story rather than hiding behind the data.”