How Laura Kuhlman Got to the Three-Minute Thesis Finals

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Laura Kuhlman, English PhD Candidate

A guest post by Laura Kuhlman, PhD Candidate, Department of English

The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) finals are this Friday, and I am beyond excited to be part of this event. I was asked to share my experience in going through the preliminary round of the competition, so that other students might know what to expect if they sign up in the coming years. Essentially, 3MT gathers graduate students from all over campus to share their research with a larger community and to highlight some of the awesome work taking place at the University of Iowa. The challenge set out for competitors is to cogently describe their research to folks who might not be familiar with their subjects, making it clear why this research is important, and describing their work in a compelling, interesting way—all in three minutes or less.

I had heard that the 3MT was great practice for future job interviews, so when I got the email from the Graduate College advertising the preliminaries, I signed right up. This year, 43 graduate students participated in the first round, sharing projects from many disciplines. My favorite part of the competition has been hearing about some of the other projects, from researchers striving to cure blindness and cancer to researchers involved in getting more people to vote. It is exciting to be able to learn something new from an expert on his or her subject in such a small burst of time.

So, what is it like to shrink your thesis down to the bite-size version and give the three-minute pitch? It’s a challenge, but a fun one. I had a few weeks to prepare, so I started by drafting a script and reading it out loud with a stopwatch. To talk about the women writers of the Beat Generation, I had to think about what someone would need to know to understand what I’m doing if they aren’t familiar with this time period in literary history. (Who are the Beats? What did they do? Why do we need to talk about the women writers? Why does this project matter?) I did my best to cut out as much jargon as possible, and to shape my explanation around a story that would keep people interested. Then, it was time to practice, practice, practice!

On the day of the preliminary speeches, we were called up one at a time to present our work. Everyone was allowed to have one static PowerPoint slide projected onto the auditorium widescreen behind them, and a time clock in the corner ticked down from three minutes to the end. Presenting to a panel of judges and a small audience (I’d say there were about fifteen people watching my group), we delivered our speeches, each of us keeping one eye on the clock as we spoke. Presenters were evaluated based on the accessibility of the content, the clarity of the speech, and the style of the presentation.

Although I was a bit nervous as I went through my speech, it was great practice for presenting my work, and I’d recommend taking part in the competition to anyone in the later years of their graduate research, especially those preparing for prospectus defenses or the job market. If you want to check out the 3MT finals, they’ll be held this Friday, November 4th, from 3:00-5:00 in the Art Building West, room 240. Come and hear about some really cool projects, and come cheer us on—it should be a lot of fun!