Ready, set, go! MSU grad students test communication skills in 3MT® competition

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

Award winners at MSU’s third annual Three Minute Thesis competition included, from left, Abbey E. Wilson, a master’s student in agricultural and life sciences, Grand Champion Runner Up (tie); Piyush Porwal, a master’s student in mechanical engineering, Grand Champion; Edith L. Martinez Ortiz, a doctoral student in civil engineering, People’s Choice Award; and Dafne Alves Oliveira, a doctoral student in molecular biology, Grand Champion Runner Up (tie). (Photo by Russ Houston)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—An 80,000-word thesis would take nine hours to present. Nearly 60 Mississippi State graduate students had less than three minutes to convey their months or years of complex research during the university’s recent third annual Three Minute Thesis competition.

Sponsored by the university’s Office of the Graduate School, the 3MT competition is open to all graduate students in good academic standing. Students may compete in arts and humanities; life and biomedical sciences and engineering; physical, mathematical, computational sciences and engineering; or social and behavioral sciences.

“I think having 180 seconds to tell people about what you’re doing in your research is a great concept, and I commend all of you for participating in this competition,” said MSU Provost and Executive Vice President Jerry Gilbert.

Gilbert also expressed gratitude to Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of MSU's Graduate School Lori Bruce for her role in bringing this worldwide competition to MSU.

“There are people all over the world just like you who are participating in this competition, and I think learning how to communicate with people who may not have the same level of knowledge of your particular subject matter or discipline will serve you very well in your future career,” Gilbert said.

Bruce agreed, adding that regardless of where life takes them after graduate school, participants need to be able to effectively convey information.

“Whether you’re trying to convince your boss why your role in the company and what you’re doing is important and worth funding, or whether you’re trying to explain to a grandparent what you do for a living, you need to be able to give that two or three minute ‘elevator pitch’ that leaves them wanting to know more,” Bruce emphasized.

Piyush Porwal, a master’s student studying mechanical engineering, was named the Grand Champion. His research talk on the “Thermal and Fluidic Characterization of Tesla Valve,” earned a $1,000 prize. Also a magna cum laude mechanical engineering bachelor’s graduate of MSU, Porwal will advance to the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools (CSGS) 3MT® Regional Finals held next February in Charlotte, North Carolina.

According to university officials, the quality of the presentations left the judging panel with the difficult task of selecting a single Grand Champion Runner Up. Ultimately, the panel decided to designate two co-recipients of the Grand Champion Runner-Up Award.

Each receiving a $750 award were Abbey E. Wilson, a master’s student in agricultural and life sciences/animal physiology with a talk titled “What’s that Perfume? Sniffing out the Science of Pandas—Chemical Communication” and Dafne Alves Oliveira, a molecular biology doctoral student who spoke about “Fielding a Team to Defeat Aflatoxin in Corn.”

Edith L. Martinez Ortiz, a civil engineering doctoral student, gave a three-minute summary of her research on “Pulse Sonication for Biodiesel Production,” which the audience voted as the People’s Choice award-winner. Ortiz received a $500 award. She also holds a master’s in civil engineering from MSU.

Finalists received $250 awards. They included:

--Jonathan Belanich, a doctoral student in biological sciences and master’s student in applied anthropology, for his research talk titled “The Analysis of Oral Microbiome Composition.”

--Timothy “T.J.” Bradford, a doctoral student in agricultural science/agricultural and extension education, for his research talk titled “Assessing Agricultural Knowledge via Experiential Learning.” He also holds a bachelor’s in agronomy and master’s in agriculture from MSU.

--Chelsie H. Darnell, a master’s student in agricultural life sciences/entomology, for her research talk titled “Insecticide Resistance of Tobacco Thrips in Cotton.”

--Kentse Radebe, a master’s student in sociology, for her research talk titled “The Quiet Revolution: Mobile Banking Regulations in Africa.”

Developed by The University of Queensland, Australia, the 3MT competition develops academic, presentation and research communication skills and supports the development of research students’ capacity to explain their work effectively in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.

 The MSU communication department partnered with the Office of the Graduate School to offer training programs to help students prepare for the competition, for which they could only use one accompanying static PowerPoint slide.

MSU’s Office of the Graduate School seeks to provide students with opportunities to develop methods of independent and systematic investigation. Providing students and faculty with an environment conducive to learning, scholarly activities and professional development also is among its primary missions. For more, visit

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