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Kristen Wyckoff Reflects on 3MT Competition

Developed by the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008, the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition was designed to challenge graduate students to share years of research in three minutes to an audience with no technical background in the area relevant to the speaker. Further adding to this challenge, they are only allowed one static slide and must speak in plain word.

This year was the inaugural year for the University of Tennessee to hold their 3MT competition, and was to be the pinnacle of Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week. Students were selected by their department representatives to compete in a semi-finals competition, three students from which advanced to the finals, creating 12 finalists. Students in the finals were housed in departments from all over campus, ranging from education to medical to engineering.

When I first saw the email to participate in this competition I did not think much of it. I figured it was just another opportunity to try something different. I eventually received an email from the student liaison for the competition telling me I had been selected, the rules, and when I would be competing. I must admit that I did not prepare as well for this first round nearly as well as I should have. I took the competition light-heartedly, but quickly realized that this was no joke. The tone of this competition was serious and competitive. In the semi-final round I was intimidated by the speeches given on the research being completed by other students from other disciplines and departments. I felt as if I had fumbled through my three minutes and that I would not be advancing to the finals. As they called the names for the finalists in my section, I was surprised to hear my name called last. Somehow I had managed to make it to the finals, and I was determined to improve my presentation and take this competition seriously.

About a month later, the finals had arrived along with the cameras, microphones, and T-shaped sugar cookies. I invited members of my cohort and some of the girls I coach to watch me. and shared the link on Facebook for my family and friends outside of Knoxville to follow along. I was in the second group, so I had time to enjoy the first set of presentations. As I was waiting to present I realized that I was the only student from the Tickle College of Engineering who had advanced to the finals. I was proud of myself to have made it so far and was happy to represent the college. As my turn came around I practiced my power poses and confidently went on stage. I felt great about my presentation and was sure that I would place in the top three. As they called the names of the winners I was truly disappointed that I did not win. The three winners gave great speeches and deserved the recognition they got; however I think most competitors were spectacular and that the judges’ selection was surely difficult.

In retrospect I think this whole process was challenging and worthwhile. I personally believe that it is more difficult to speak on your topic for 3 minutes rather than 30. Having to engage an educated audience with no technical background related to your research is a strong skill to have, and I would highly encourage any interested graduate student to give it a shot. Though disappointed that I did not win, I am still happy that I was able to participate in this competition and represent the Tickle College of Engineering and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department along the way.