Laurier students compete in annual Three Minute Thesis

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Graphic by Alan Li

On March 28, Wilfrid Laurier University will be holding the three-minute thesis competition for master’s and post doctoral students from 9 a.m.to 4 p.m. on its Waterloo campus.

Research-based masters and PhD students will present their topic of research in a time period of three minutes or less.

The three-minute thesis is specifically meant to help masters and post-doctoral students to develop their communications skills and explain the significance of their research to a layperson audience.

“Basically, it’s a competition where [masters students] have to present their thesis, major research project or dissertation in three minutes or less,” Claire Prime, communications coordinator for the competition said.

“They get one PowerPoint slide or any notes or any props and the winner [moves] onto the provincial competition.”

The three-minute thesis competition is a world-renowned competition which began in 2008. This competition has both national and international significance for master’s researchers and post-doctoral students from a wide range of disciplines.

“It’s a competition about effective communication,” Matt Smith, biology professor and associate dean of graduate and doctoral studies, said.

“It was actually founded at the University of Queensland, in New Zealand, quite a number of years ago and now spread across globe really, universities all over the world do it now.”

“It’s an event about effective communication to an audience, how can you boil your thesis down and – for a PhD student for four, five, six years a big research project – how can you boil that down and effectively communicate that in three minutes or less … it’s like an elevator pitch basically,” Smith said.

The challenge to explain an entire thesis within a three-minute time period is extremely difficult. Smith explained that it really showcases the vast amount of effort it takes to conduct such a difficult task.

Masters and post-doctoral students were recruited in January by Claire Prime in order to participate in the three-minute thesis competition.

This year there are many competitors from all different kinds of Laurier programs presenting their research.

“It happens every March, and I think at Laurier it has been happening since 2012. Next year we will be looking for more competitors in and around January,” Prime said.

“We have 16 disciplines this year and 30 competitors at the moment, so we have pretty well almost every faculty involved [from] social work, music therapy, biology, management, criminology and all sorts of different disciplines,” Prime said.

In addition to the experience of sharing valuable research with the community, there is a wide range of prizes to be won by the participants of the competition.

“First place is $1,000, runner up is $500 and honourable mention is $250. Then the Participant’s Choice Award, which is chosen by the competitors, is $250,” Prime said.

“[The] winner goes onto the provincial competition at York university … then after that there is a national competition,” Prime said.

Last year, Richard Edwards, former three-minute thesis competitor, made it to the national three-minute thesis competition for his master’s research on quantum dots and their ability to detect tumors.

The challenge to explain an entire thesis within a three-minute time period is extremely difficult. Smith explained that it really showcases the vast amount of effort it takes to conduct such a difficult task.

“It’s actually a really difficult challenge to do this in exactly three minutes or less, so students really put a lot of work into that and it really is exciting to see all of the presentations and how good they are and knowing how much work they put into it,” Smith said.

“I think it is really a great showcase of students and the work that they are doing, again it’s a huge diversity of different topics and really high-quality work that is going on, so I think that it’s a really good aspect of the day,” Smith said.

The public and undergraduate students are also welcomed to attend the event from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. which allows for the opportunity for the community to be exposed to the research happening at Laurier.

“It gives the public … a taste of kind of … research happening at Laurier,” Prime said.

“There’s just so much many disciplines involved and some really cutting-edge research that doesn’t always make the news.”

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