The 2020 3MT Competition: Undergoing the Grad Student Gauntlet

Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.

The 3MT logo.

The Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT) challenges scholars from every discipline to present their research to an audience of peers, professors, and industry professionals. Competitors must strategically craft their presentations in a way that is informative, engaging, comprehensive, and concise. As the name suggests, the Three Minute Thesis competition is extremely limiting in presentation time; competitors are limited to a brisk three minutes, one static PowerPoint slide, and their speech itself. No props. No videos. No animations. Exceeding the time limit results in disqualification from the competition. 

The strict regulations of 3MT keep things focused; nobody can ramble, go off topic, or weave performance into the presentation. Every word counts and time is precious. In a way, this competition is the antithesis of traditional dissertations. While competitors will still do a deep dive on their subject of expertise, it will be presented in a way that is much quicker and more accessible to a general audience, contrasting the extensive, labored-over, 80,000-word thesis document. The presenter must develop their presentation around the premise that their audience is completely new to their topic. They must avoid confusing jargon that locks people out of understanding, but also not oversimplify their research and fail to do it justice. The questions at the heart of each presentation will be: What is your research? What gap does it fill in the current scholarship? Why is it important?

3MT began in 2008 at the University of Queensland, Australia. Since then, it has spread to over 600 universities across 85 countries. UC’s first 3MT competition was held in 2016, laying the framework for what it has grown into today. This year’s competition is primed to be the best yet, with the most wide-ranging pool of competitors – a group of 25 individuals competitively chosen from over 50 applicants – who represent nearly every college on campus. Expect to hear from experts that run the gamut of graduate programs offered at UC, from neuroscience and physics to architecture and piano performance.

Smruti Deoghare participating in last year's 3MT competition.

Smruti Deoghare participating in last year's 3MT competition.

Returning from last year’s competition is biomedical informatics PhD candidate Smruti Deoghare, whose research focuses on training artificial intelligence to successfully detect cancer. “This year I’ll be doing a different perspective on my research topic,” she says, after attending a coaching session leading up to the competition. She says that the leader of the session helped her consider how to frame her research to make it a more impactful and compelling story for her audience. One of Smruti’s goals with her presentation will be to “bust the myth that artificial intelligence will take over the world,” a contentious and provocative idea, no doubt. Prepare to hear more stories like this that tackle big, global issues by hatching one great, innovative idea after the next.

The stakes of this year’s 3MT competition are higher than ever before, as the pool of prize money has doubled since lasts year’s competition. The top presenters will be awarded the following:

  • First place: $1,000
  • Second place: $600
  • Third place: $400

To make the stakes even higher, the winner of UC’s 3MT competition will be registered to compete in the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools’ regional 3MT competition, which will give them an even larger platform to share their research.

This event will be a great chance for you, the audience member, to learn from all new perspectives and will leave you with a new understanding of just how varied and extensive the expertise on campus truly is. The 2020 3MT competition will take place at 1819 Innovation Hub, room 230, beginning at 10am on February 20, 2020. It is free and open to the public. For a full list of the competitors – including their field of study – visit the 2020 3MT Schedule page.