On Winning the 3-Minute Thesis Competition



Ben Miele, Assistant Professor of English at University of the Incarnate Word, won the University of Iowa 3-Minute Thesis competition in 2015. Ben will be a guest participant in the UI Next Gen PhD Elevator Pitch/3-Minute Thesis symposium (Nov. 18, 12-1, Main Library 2032).  He allowed us to republish a blog post he wrote just after he completed his PhD in English last year. Ben’s twitter handle is @HarpocratesJr.

I am using this opportunity not only to brag about finishing grad school but also to brag about winning the University of Iowa’s inaugural 3MT®Competition. What is it? According to Iowa’s website for the competition, 3MT is “an academic competition developed by The University of Queensland, Australia. In this competition students share their dissertation research with a general audience in an oral presentation lasting at most … three minutes. Begun in 2008, the competition has grown to include more than 125 universities worldwide, including 45 in the United States.”

Distilling a dissertation down to three minutes is challenging but doable—and valuable. The emphasis is on clarity and concision, cornerstones of those ever-important communication skills, and so it helps students in any discipline, primarily because they can practice explaining an involved and arcane research project to an audience that is not in the field. But even those “in the field” are not experts on the particular topic of each and every dissertation. My dissertation was about surveillance and reading, and few researchers of early modern English literature are experts on Renaissance surveillance practices. So the 3MT can help with the thesis defense, the elevator pitch, and the job interview—as well as with the justification of the English PhD to inquisitorial relatives at Thanksgiving.

If students start planning to do it early enough, the 3MT can even help them hone their arguments at the prospectus stage. The 3MT asks students to explain how they arrived at their research, what new discoveries they made, and why it matters—all in just three minutes. Prospectuses, ideally, also aim to situate one’s research in a larger conversation, explain one’s unique contribution, and show why a research finding is important. I think the 3MT model could even help in the creation of a prospectus.

Going through the 3MT process can make one more competitive when applying for scholarships, fellowships, and grants. It encourages students to think about how to appeal to a broader audience—something that, unfortunately, is often not considered until late in the writing process. if preparation for the competition is started early enough, the 3MT can make the thesis better. In any event, or as in my case, it can make the explanation of the thesis better. And if the competition takes place at an amazing place like the University of Iowa, one can get a short, user-friendly video about one’s research, great for showcasing on one’s web site.

Check out my three-minute presentation, which garnered me a first-place prize and a People’s Choice award—not thePeople’s Choice©, ®, , etc. award, but an award nonetheless.

PhDs in the Library

Dr. Amy Chen

Dr. Amy Chen is the Special Collections Instruction Librarian and Interim English and American Literature Librarian at the University of Iowa. Her Twitter handle is @AmyHildrethChen.

Looking over Dr. Amanda Visconti’s CV before her talk at the University of Iowa a few weeks ago, I realized that part of her success as a tenure-track Digital Humanities (DH) Assistant Professor and DH Specialist Librarian derives from her background. Dr. Visconti received an MS degree in Information prior to obtaining her PhD degree in Literature/Digital Humanities.

So does it matter that Dr. Visconti has both the MS and the PhD degrees? The truth is that obtaining an information science degree may not be necessary in every case for future digital humanities faculty and/or librarians, but it does allow candidates more flexibility on the job market.

I believe Dr. Visconti’s MS degree helped her in four ways:

  1. It highlighted her commitment to a professional orientation beyond a tenure-track job in a literature department. While Dr. Visconti does not have one of the most common library degrees, the Master in Library and Information Science (MLIS) or the Master of Library Science (MLS), her Information MS can perform the same role as these degrees do by formally expanding her identity.
  2. It added value to her Literature/Digital Humanities PhD. The Information MS degree is for students who might wish to work in a variety of settings, including the technology industry. As Visconti went on to have her PhD cross-listed in Literature and the Digital Humanities (DH), she was able to take the broader understanding of technology she acquired from her master’s degree and apply it to the research she was doing for her PhD, increasing her academic exposure to digital methods.
  3. It allowed her to be a more sophisticated doctoral student in Literature. With her first degree behind her, Visconti was better informed when she needed to research graduate schools and choose a mentor. This savviness also allowed her to be better positioned to reshape the paradigm of what the dissertation looked like, and to be able to advocate for her work.
  4. It gave her better timing on the job market. Dr. Visconti got her “additional” certification first. For doctoral students interested in library or DH careers, contemplating—while taking coursework, studying for exams, or writing dissertations—the pursuit of an additional degree can be overwhelming. But waiting until after graduating to consider this possibility can be even worse: at some point, a newly-minted PhD needs to earn a living wage, establish a family, settle down geographically, or simply leave her student days behind. Rather than finding a master’s program to professionalize her doctorate credential, Visconti carried her professional orientation into her PhD research, empowering her literary analysis while also giving her more options on the job market.

Writing this as an academic librarian—I am currently the Special Collections Instruction Librarian and Interim English and American Literature Librarian at the University of Iowa—without an additional master’s degree, I can’t approach Visconti as a model of how to pursue a career in libraries because she is relatively exceptional.

It’s not just that she holds two degrees, but that the order in which she obtained them is important. Acquiring additional credentials so as to move into a different career track after graduating with a doctorate is a much more complicated undertaking, although certainly not impossible, as my career proves. To acknowledge this reality is not to make Visconti’s new role at Purdue seem any less exciting, or to suggest that her research is any less avant-garde, but it does concede that her experience is difficult for many students currently enrolled in PhD programs to emulate.

Tweeting Dangerously

David Gooblar, Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric

David Gooblar, Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric, is the author of The Major Phases of Philip Roth (Continuum, 2011). He writes a column on teaching at chroniclevitae.com.  His twitter handle is @dgooblar.

It is impossible to talk about Twitter, it seems, without talking about danger. In the first minutes of Ivan Kreilkamp’s “flipped lecture” on Twitter and the academy on Tuesday, the following subjects were broached: the lack of control one has after a tweet makes its way into the world; the “context collapse” that can allow viral tweets to be easily misinterpreted; the tendency of some graduate students to maintain two twitter accounts (one professional, one personal) to be on the safe side; and Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and the case of Justine Sacco, who tweeted a joke before boarding a plane, flew to South Africa, and disembarked to find herself a newly jobless pariah. Tweeting, it would seem, is a dangerous activity, best practiced with an abundance of caution.

I think this sense of danger arises from something particular to Twitter’s design: it feels private, but it definitely is not. Kreilkamp mentioned a number of times the “conversational” appeal of Twitter, how the medium is filled with what Walter Ong called “secondary orality.” We type tweets quickly, often on our phones, and use the informal vocabulary and syntax of texting. As well, the only people reading our tweets, the vast majority of the time, are the people who have elected to follow us. For most of us, this is a small number of people. This can fool us into acting as if we are at a cocktail party, speaking freely to people we can trust. Even if we can’t trust them—they’re just a handful of people.

But if using Twitter is like conversing at a cocktail party, it’s like conversing at a cocktail party on a reality show. We are free to confess our most shameful secrets to our fellow contestants, but we’d be wise to remember the cameras recording us, all the time.

Every tweet you compose and send out into the ether remains inscribed on your profile page, searchable for as long as the service remains online. In addition, the Library of Congress wants to archive every tweet ever sent (although, with more than 500 million tweets a day being added to the archive, it is by no means certain that the project will succeed). So even if you delete that embarrassing joke you made back before you had any followers, you can’t be sure someone won’t find it someday and use it against you.

This built-in confusion—the way Twitter masks its publicness—leads directly to the cautionary tales that make us want to warn graduate students to be careful. Of course we have no such fear of scholarly articles, say, or other kinds of public writing. We don’t warn our graduate students about the necessity of maintaining professional personae when they give conference papers—there’s no need to. When any of us speak or write publicly, we accept that there are certain risks we take. We are free to express whatever dubious personal opinions we have, but we understand that someone out there might be listening, and they might not like those opinions.

For those who are on or will soon be on the job market, caution seems wise. But this caution is medium-independent: it wasn’t Twitter that caused the University of Illinois to rescind its job offer to Steven Salaita; it was that the university’s chancellor objected to what Salaita said publicly.

Whatever else Twitter is—promotional megaphone, generative writing lab, networking tool, community space—it is, first and foremost, a public medium. If we are to help graduate students, or indeed anyone in the academy, navigate the world of social media, we could do a lot worse than to underline this fact: Twitter is public, Twitter is public, Twitter is public.

If we say it enough, maybe we’ll remember.

How Laura Kuhlman Got to the Three-Minute Thesis Finals

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!

Questions, We’ve Got Questions for Ivan Kreilkamp



We look forward to Ivan Kreilkamp’s conversation with the UI Next Gen PhD planners on Tuesday, November 1, at 3:30 (BCSB 101), part of a series of symposia organized around rhetorical forms. In our grant proposal, we described this event as follows:

Symposium 3: The Tweet The speed of Twitter communication presents an opportunity and a challenge. As they compose 140-character missives, tweeters can try out different identities, throw out fishing lines, and sharpen lures. On the other hand, an ill-considered comment can have an alarming permanence as it rockets across the Twitter-verse. This symposium will attend to how graduate students can craft professional personae online, with particular attention to voice and tone. The symposium will consider how the same rhetorical skills that allow Twitter-users to disseminate scholarship can be marshaled in careers beyond the academy.

We’re especially interested in talking to Dr. Kreilkamp about how he has come to write for both scholarly and popular venues, and about how his Twitter persona has evolved. To sample Ivan Kreilkamp’s writing in advance of the symposium, check out his essay “Against ‘Against [X]’” in the New Yorker, or his Twitter handle @IvanKreilkamp. Listed below are the questions we’re poised to ask him on November 1. Feel free to add more in the comments section.

Will you talk a little about how you made the transition from writing for scholarly venues to writing for magazines like the New Yorker, Village Voice, or Public Books?

Are there ways in which you (or others at your home institution) are helping PhD candidates develop skills that will serve them in careers beyond the academy?

What advice do you have for graduate students who want to cultivate a Twitter presence?

Are there aspects of voice curation on Twitter that you think are especially important for graduate students?

Do you encourage your graduate students to develop an online presence?

Are there Twitter mistakes of which graduate students need to be especially cognizant? How does one rebound from a Twitter mishap?

Who maintains the Twitter presence of Victorian Studies (@VictStudies), the journal which you edit?

How, or to what extent, is it possible to use Twitter to advance a research program?

What are the potential positive and negative effects on scholarly production of an active Twitter presence?

How much time do you think a graduate student should spend on curating an intellectual presence online?

Do you recommend that graduate students follow certain communities online? In your field, are there “must-follow” online entities? What are they?

To what extent does Twitter help you keep up with your field?

How do you feel about the live-tweeting of conference papers?

What would you say to skeptics who think that Twitter is about self-promotion and little else?

What is the shelf life of a tweet? Do you anticipate a future in which tweets get cited in scholarly articles?


Ivan Kreilkamp on Creating a Twitter Voice


Guest post by Kate Nesbit, PhD student in the Department of English.

How can we craft personae and build professional and intellectual communities in posts of 140 characters or less? On Tuesday, November 1 (BCSB 101), Ivan Kreilkamp joins us to discuss the genre of the tweet in our third Next Gen PhD symposium. Kreilkamp, co-editor of the journal Victorian Studies and professor of English at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, curates a lively Twitter account. His tweets engage in intellectual debate, promote others’ scholarship, link to his publications, and—of course—mourn the woes of the current election season. Young scholars and graduate students admiring Kreilkamp’s Twitter presence may wonder: How can I cultivate an online voice that feels authentic and conversational, but also scholarly and professional? How can I create a community of thinkers who take interest in what I have to say?

What we hope to accomplish through Twitter, Victorian authors like Benjamin Disraeli, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charles Dickens hoped to accomplish through novels. For, as Kreilkamp argues in his book Voice and the Victorian Storyteller (2005), Victorian novelists tried to create in their fiction an “imaginary-voice-in-writing.” Victorians figured the novel as the utterance of an authentic, charismatic storyteller, he argues, in order to reconstitute isolated readers as a community of rapt listeners. Kreilkamp challenges characterizations of print culture as oppositional to oral culture. He reads Victorian fiction in relation to the phonograph, Victorian shorthand systems, and other attempts to represent the sounds of speech in writing.

So, how can we describe the “Voice of this Victorianist Tweeter”? Kreilkamp, too, is adept at crafting a personable and smart imaginary-voice-in-typing, a voice accessible and engaging to a community that extends beyond the academy. He has published scholarly articles on topics ranging from speech and voice in the nineteenth century to Victorian pet-keeping and animal studies. Yet he also publishes regularly in venues geared toward wider audiences—The New Yorker, Public Books, and The Los Angeles Review of Books—on issues literary, academic and otherwise. In short, his is a voice worth listening to, whether in the form of an article about dogs in Great Expectations, an opinion piece on pulp comics in Public Books, or a 140-character tweet about whether men should be pictured squashed under skillets instead of high heels.



unflatteningcover         We look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of Dr. Nick Sousanis, an Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University. Nick is the creator of Unflattening, which started as a dissertation in comics form, an experiment in making an argument through images, and went on to become a much-celebrated book published by Harvard University Press. Nick will be a participant in our second Next Gen PhD symposium, one that is focused on the footnote or, more generally, forms of citation, but Nick’s creative practice will also help us talk about the dissertation (the topic of our first symposium), and social media forms like the tweet and the blog post (topics of future symposia). Because Nick’s book argues that words and images are equal partners in meaning-making, he finds ways to cite images that influenced his argument as fundamentally as did the words of philosophers and theorists.

We planned for Dr. Sousanis’s visit through our regular series of planning meetings, but also through an Unflattening reading group composed of faculty, graduate students, and librarians. At all of these gatherings, we tossed around questions that we hope will fuel conversations when Nick hits campus on Friday (October 21, graduate student session in main library from 12:00 to 1:00; a conversation with Dr. Nick Sousanis in BCSB, 101, from 3:30 to 5). Here are some of the questions we posed:

Why did you choose academe? What was the utility of the PhD for you? Did you consider careers outside the academy?

What were the limitations of traditional modes of scholarship that led you to prefer the comics form? What new things did this format allow you to do? Were there kinds of information that exceeded the boundaries of a traditional dissertation?

Please talk about images as sources.

Who were your main artistic influences?

How do you manage your archive?

Are there moments when you rue the word limitations that are placed upon you by the comics form?

What’s the most challenging criticism your work has received?

Who did you see as your audience while you were working on your dissertation? on your book?

What were the most important aspects of the ways you were mentored as a graduate student?

Are there aspects of your graduate education that you would do differently if you were to start over again?

Does it matter whether or not conventional scholarship cites your work?

How would you mentor traditionalists? Do aspects of your creative practice translate to working with students who are writing in more conventional modes?

The role of generosity in best practices for digital humanities advisors


img_0959Dr. Amanda Visconti reflects on her dissertation experience at Next Gen Humanities PhD Symposium

Post by Amy Chen, Special Collections Instruction Librarian, U of Iowa

What struck me as I listened to Amanda Visconti’s question and answer  session last Wednesday is that the generosity of Visconti’s mentors helped enable her success in academia as an Assistant Professor in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Education and Business division of Purdue University Libraries. I focus on the word “generosity” because it indicates that the mentorship Visconti received went beyond what traditionally is given in an academic setting. The exceptional support her committee provided highlights two examples of best practices that could be adapted by future digital humanities advisors to make Visconti’s experience more universal.

First, Visconti’s committee members prepared her to answer negative feedback that would misinterpret the value of her digital humanities work. In so doing, they viewed themselves as advocates of their unconventional student rather than as traditional certifiers of disciplinary expertise. As the author of the first fully digital dissertation, Visconti needed to anticipate how textual studies scholars would perceive Infinite Ulysses. Although her committee—Matthew Kirschenbaum, Neil Fraistat, Melanie Kill, Kari Kraus, and Brian Richardson—was fully supportive of her approach, they recognized Infinite Ulysses could be perceived as just an edited digital edition of Joyce’s masterwork. Then, the question would be if editorial work was sufficient for obtaining a doctorate. But Visconti did not shy away from this critique because she was able to engage with it early in her project’s development. Therefore, doctoral committees need to view their role as not only grounding graduate students in the extant scholarship, but also helping them anticipate how these modes of scholarship will view digital approaches.

Second, Visconti’s entire committee met every semester. In contrast, many graduate students only are able to get their committees in one room in person at critical moments in their graduate careers, such as at their exam or defense meetings. The collective approach taken by Visconti’s committee did not replace individual relationships; rather it bolstered those one-on-one meetings by helping Visconti to discuss Infinite Ulysses in both settings. However, to make biannual committee meetings possible for graduate students, faculty may need to formally revise their expectations for mentoring. Otherwise, as Visconti’s use of the word “generosity” recognizes, the majority of faculty will not find the time for these additional recommended meetings.

What Amanda Visconti and Infinite Ulysses Get about James Joyce

Tom Keegan

Tom Keegan, Head of the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio, is an Iowa English PhD whose dissertation focused on pub phenomenology in the works of James Joyce.  Tom’s twitter handle is @tmkeegan.

With Professor Amanda Visconti in town this week as part of the University of Iowa’s NEH Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. Planning Grant, I wanted to reflect on the importance of her Infinite Ulysses project for literary study in general and Joyce studies in particular.

Amanda Visconti—then a graduate student at the University of Maryland. http://www.english.umd.edu/news/5523
Amanda Visconti—then a graduate student at the University of Maryland. http://www.english.umd.edu/news/5523

In 2015, Amanda Visconti did something that many Joyceans had often considered but never fully realized: she invited the public to annotate a public, web-based, and full-text version of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). For decades, scholars had struggled with the notoriously irascible Joyce estate and its policing of copyright, access, and articulation where Joyce’s writings were concerned. The past thirty-plus years are littered with wonderful projects—some digital, some not—that bear the strain and scars of policy and litigation.

By 2012, however, Joyce’s novel could now circulate in ways that its author (arguably) had hoped it would. That year, Ulysses exited copyright and returned anew to the welcoming embrace of the public—a public that is its subject; a public for whom it was written; a public that can now in turns, be informed by and inform the text.

When Amanda Visconti, as a graduate student, began work on her project, she entered into a long line of digital projects that sought to remediate aspects of Joyce’s work. Some of these projects were annotative in nature; others sought to echo the experimental aspects of Joyce’s writings. In her excellent whitepaper submitted as part of her doctoral dissertation, Professor Visconti maps out a number of digital treatments of Joyce’s work. So, I won’t rehash those here.

Heyward Ehrlich's James Joyce Text Machine. Screencap of in-text annotation links with resizeable windows. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~ehrlich/jjtm/demo/6index.html
Heyward Ehrlich’s James Joyce Text Machine. Screencap of in-text annotation links with resizeable windows. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~ehrlich/jjtm/demo/6index.html

Instead, I want to call attention to her project for its public, digital focus on collaboration and community-building.

There is arguably no work of literature more devoted to the idea and the practice of community than James Joyce’s Ulysses. As early as Dubliners (1914), Joyce was remarking on his own “scrupulous meanness” with respect to that collection’s careful articulation of seeming banality. Joyce’s talent for translating the everyday into prose informs all of his works. And Ulysses, the story of a day in Dublin, so elegantly, so experimentally, so thoroughly captures the pulse and verve of life hiding in plain site, that Joyce boasted to his friend Frank Budgen, “I want…to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” The line is, of course, not literally true—and today, with Dublin having undergone so many transformations, too much physical difference lies between the Dublin of Ulysses and its 21st century iteration. But I don’t think that was Joyce’s point. Joyce is, for me, our most human writer. The picture of Dublin he gives us is one informed by our pettiness, insecurities, and fears just as fully as it is our empathy, charity, and loves. Where we fail to give things a second thought—opening a door, crossing the street, pouring a drink—Joyce follows behind us, gathers up the neglected details of our everyday lives, and relocates them in this human narrative. And by virtue of reading Ulysses, we re-encounter ourselves in the text.

The welcoming front page of Infinite Ulysses. http://www.infiniteulysses.com/
The welcoming front page of Infinite Ulysses. http://www.infiniteulysses.com/

Now, that’s a point I had to make in order to best articulate the value of what Amanda Visconti has done. For years, people have created reading groups around Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Those texts nearly necessitate and certainly support a multiplicity of perspectives. Joyce’s work both turn upon and turn towards the public. We read them to better know ourselves and in reading them we create or are brought into new communities addressing those texts. Infinite Ulysses stands as one of the most successful public digital projects that attends to the work of literary criticism via annotation while at the same time creating a community around the text.

This summer, J.D. Biersdorfer, writing for the New York Times, mentioned the site in a piece about the rise of digital assistance in reading Joyce’s tome. Biersdorfer referred to the site as “a global community of readers and scholars discussing an online copy of the text together in a mash-up of literary analysis and group therapy.” I have no issue with that assessment. The creation of a vibrant community in which ideas circulate, questions are posed, debates had, and the odd or idiosyncratic view conveyed seems like precisely the picture of humanity Joyce sought to give us.

A dissertation that advances both a critical apparatus for approaching (literary) works while also enacting public use of them marks, to my mind, a turning point in what we can expect from a dissertation. For me, Infinite Ulysses illustrates just how much of Joyce’s work Professor Visconti came to understand while pursuing her degree. The fact that her dissertation reaches beyond the page and into the broader public captures the essence of Joyce’s work in a way few do.

Next Gen Ph.D.: A Conversation with Amanda Visconti was held on Wednesday, October 12th, 2016 at 3:30pm in the E125 Visual Arts Building.