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Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference hosts Mason’s first 3MT competition: Volgenau student wins People’s Choice

March 27, 2017   /   by Martha Bushong

In three minutes you could make a sandwich, or pour a bowl of milk and cereal. Some talented literary types could pen a Haiku verse, but explain a complicated research topic in three minutes? Now that’s a challenge.

Four Volgenau PhD students rose to the challenge at the Three Minute Thesis (3MT™) competition finals during the Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference on March 25. Worldwide, more than 200 universities host a 3MT™ competition for their students. This was Mason’s first year.

Communicating important research in a clear and concise manner to wide audiences is a skill that can increase the success of job searches, funding proposals, and professional networking. The 3MT™ gives students a chance to polish these skills as part of an energizing, fun, and challenging academic competition.

“This is an essential skill, whether one goes on to the lecture circuit, program management, business development, or CEO,” said William Diehl, one of Volgenau’s finalists.  “Think of the power of someone like Steve Jobs communicating a new product release to an audience - it sells products and ideas.”

The competition was also a great way to learn about the research going on in the school. 

“This research is conducted quietly in our labs and offices,” said Senior Associate Dean, Stephen Nash. “Occasionally we hear about a faculty award, but those announcements are just glimpses at a broader activity. The work of our PhD students is an integral part of that activity."

Before facing off against each other and students from the elsewhere in the  university, Volgenau’s Office of Graduate Studies hosted a practice sessions for 3MT™ competitors to gather, test their skills, and obtain feedback. 

 “The students had three minutes (and one PowerPoint slide) to explain their research. It’s not easy,” said Nash.  “One hesitation can throw off your timing, make you worry about whether you will finish on time, and put your presentation into a tailspin.  It can be especially hard for Volgenau students, since their research is in technical areas that take time to explain.”
 
 “The practice session was very valuable - in fact, paramount,” said Bradley Snyder, another finalist from the school and winner of the People’s Choice Award at the competition. “There is no substitute for getting in front of real people, who have emotions and react in real time. At the prelims, it was obvious that Volgenau students had tuned their presentations based on feedback, and that some others did not have the benefit of a review session.”

“There were many fine presentations at the finals,” said Nash.  “The students had put a lot of time and thought into preparation and rehearsal.  It was amazing to see how much insight and information could be packed into three minutes. Our students did a great job, and I look forward to next year’s competition.”

 
The top three prizes went to:
  #1: Chelsie Romulo (College of Science)
  #2:  Rachel Golden Kroner (College of Science)
  #3:  Erik Goepner (Schar School of Public Policy)