Research rockstars: Graduate students shine in MSU’s fifth annual Three Minute Thesis competition

John T. Buol, a plant and soil sciences/weed science doctoral student, was named Grand Champion of Mississippi State’s fifth annual Three Minute Thesis competition. The event was sponsored by the university’s Graduate School. (Photo by Marco Lopez)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Conveying months or years of complex research in less than three minutes is no easy task. Using only one accompanying static PowerPoint slide, 65 Mississippi State graduate students rose to that challenge during the university’s fifth annual Three Minute Thesis competition.

Sponsored by the university’s Graduate School, the recent 3MT competition tested young researchers’ abilities to effectively explain their findings in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience. Categories included arts and humanities; life and biomedical sciences and engineering; physical, mathematical, computational sciences and engineering; and social and behavioral sciences.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in life. Whether you’re trying to raise capital for a project, influence a lawmaker or policy maker, or educate the general public, you need to be able to talk about what you do and what you’re passionate about in a very precise, influential way,” said Professor Lori Bruce, MSU associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School.

“You want to influence others in a way where they can understand why what you’re doing is important and useful, and in particular with research, how it impacts society,” Bruce added.

John T. Buol, a plant and soil sciences/weed science doctoral student from New Glarus, Wisconsin, was named Grand Champion. His research talk “Caught (infra) red-handed: Detecting Illegal Herbicide Use,” earned a $1,000 prize. An MSU plant and soil sciences/weed science master’s graduate, Buol will represent the university on Feb. 24, 2018, in the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools Three Minute Thesis Regional Finals in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

This year’s Grand Champion Runner-Up Award recipient is Chloe D. Henson of Rienzi, a master’s student in agricultural economics. She received a $750 award for her presentation “Consumer Willingness-to-Pay for Blemished Fresh Produce and its Implications for Food Waste.” Henson also is an MSU summa cum laude graduate in agribusiness/policy and law.

“The Three Minute Thesis competition was a good experience because I learned how to do an elevator pitch and discuss the importance of agricultural economics and food waste in particular,” Henson said. “I recently got accepted into the Southern Agricultural Economics Association, and there are a lot of other researchers I can now talk with in that organization.”

Cori J. Speights, a biological sciences doctoral student from Mexia, Texas, summarized her research in a three-minute talk titled “Lady Beetles of the Night,” which the audience voted as the $500 People’s Choice Award winner.

“This competition was a good opportunity to tell people about the research we’re doing,” Speights said. “It was hard to talk about it in just two-and-a-half minutes, but I was able to keep my presentation fun and exciting. I want to converse like I did during the competition all of the time, so I’m going to keep working hard.”

Finalists at MSU’s fifth annual Three Minute Thesis competition included (front row, from left to left) Allison Julien; Courtney Hunter; Saira Talwar  (back row, from left to right) Lydia Jordan; DJ Galvez; Cori Speights, People’s Choice Award winner; and Chloe Henson, Grand Champion Runner-Up. Not pictured are John Buol and Abdalla Sherif. (Photo by Russ Houston)

Finalists received $250 awards. They include:

—Abdalla R. Sherif of Starkville, a geosciences master’s student concentrating in geospatial sciences. An MSU geosciences/geographic information systems bachelor’s graduate, his three-minute talk focused on “Land Cover Classification of the Mobile Metropolitan Area from 1975-2015.”

—Saira Talwar of Waukesha, Wisconsin, a master’s student studying kinesiology/exercise physiology with her research talk “Improving Quality of Life of Older Adults with Tai Chi and Bingo.”

—Courtney L. Hunter of Jackson, a veterinary medical science doctoral student whose presentation was titled “New Asthma Drugs: Insight from an Equine Asthma Model.” She also is an MSU Doctor of Veterinary Medicine graduate.

—Derius J. “DJ” Galvez of Shubuta, an aerospace engineering master’s student with the presentation “Project Noctua: Bio-inspired Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.” He also holds an MSU bachelor’s in aerospace engineering/aeronautics.

—Allison R. Julien of Starkville, a life sciences/animal physiology doctoral student who discussed “Nosy Nanoparticles.”

—Lydia A. Jordan of Starkville, a chemistry master’s student who highlighted research findings in her talk “Magnesium Corrosion and Geometry: An Application to the Automotive Industry.” She also graduated summa cum laude from MSU with a bachelor’s in chemistry and an American Chemical Society concentration.

MSU’s Graduate School provides students with scholarly and professional development opportunities to develop methods of independent and systematic investigation. For more, visit

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