“Don’t tell my advisor this, but I am constantly listening to music or podcasts as I do my experiments in the lab,” began Bhargav Sanketi, a doctoral candidate in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, at the Nov. 18 Ivy+ Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.
“However, every day I’m faced with the constant struggle of having to untangle my headphones, because that is what you get when you take a really long tube and put it in a small cavity like my pocket. The human small intestine is about 22 feet long. That is three and a half times the length of the average human being. So how does this really long tube fit into the relatively tiny abdominal cavity without getting knotted up?”
At the Ivy+ competition, 16 students representing eight institutions presented the most important and impactful parts of their dissertation research in just three minutes using a single slide. Judges evaluated how clearly and compellingly they communicated their research to a general audience.
Cornell University’s Spring 2021 3MT competitors Sanketi (first place) and Rachel Allison (second place), a food science and technology doctoral candidate, presented their research in this virtual event.
Sanketi’s presentation, “To Be or Knot to Be,” earned third place. Matthew Ellis, Yale University, received first place; Abigail Dutton, Dartmouth College, received second place; and Wei-Li Lee, Columbia University, was voted People’s Choice Award winner.
“I did 3MT this year since it was a chance to have some fun with my research topic and present it in a different light,” said Sanketi. “I used the feedback from Cornell colleagues and friends to make my presentation better!”
Allison gathered reactions from friends as she prepared her submission. She simplified her slide and framed her story more clearly. Without the pressure of a timer ticking down the three minutes against the backdrop of a live audience, she approached her recording differently than her Cornell 3MT presentation.
“It was a more relaxed process, and the pressure of going over time was reduced,” she said. “As a result, I felt like I could have a bit more fun with it.”
In advance of the competition, both Sanketi and Allison found themselves looking forward to listening to the other students’ presentations.
“It’s always interesting to see the wild analogies people come up with to explain their research areas,” said Sanketi.
Allison added, “The students who participate in 3MT are very passionate and enthusiastic about their research, and they’ve worked creatively to make their topics accessible. You can’t help but become interested and learn something.”
Turning a 10,000 plus word dissertation into a succinct and compelling three-minute presentation helps students prepare for job interviews, write grant proposals and present often complicated scientific information to general audiences.
“One of the key skills for a Ph.D. is their ability to sift through a large amount of information and disseminate it succinctly to a non-technical audience,” said Denise DiRienzo, director of outreach and engagement. “The 3MT is a great tool for strengthening these skills. It’s so inspiring and fun to watch.”
The Graduate School has hosted six 3MT competitions at Cornell and had students compete in two Ivy competitions, the first of which took place in 2019.
“3MT is a terrific opportunity for students to show off their research and presentation skills,” said Jan Allen, associate dean for academic and student affairs. “We are so proud of our Cornell scholars for the work they have done and the way they represented our institution.”
Competitors in the Ivy+ 3MT represented Cornell University, Brown University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.
Planning for Cornell’s Spring 2022 3MT competition is currently underway.
Katya Hrichak is a communications assistant in the Graduate School.