UA Hosts Second Year of Three-Minute Thesis Competition

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Graduate students at The University of Alabama get a chance to show off their research and presentation skills in the second iteration of Three Minute Thesis, and this time the stakes are even higher.

Camera crews from Alabama Public Television will record the 3MT semifinals, which are at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Ferguson Center Theater, as well as the finals at 6 p.m. Nov. 18 in room 159 at Russell Hall. Cameras are also following some individual presenters in order to tell their stories as they prepare to compete.

“The 3MT competition is an amazing opportunity, especially this year since it will be televised, for graduate students to share their cutting-edge research with the larger campus, our community, and now the region,” said Dr. Cori Perdue, director of graduate student, graduate faculty and student-parent programs for the UA Graduate School.

“While the pressure may be higher for grad students to perform well in front of both a live audience and TV cameras, the benefits and exposure are even greater, and we are thrilled Alabama Public Television is creating a show to feature our graduate students and their work.”

The University embraced 3MT last year as a way to help doctoral students distill their theses into an “elevator pitch”—a short, effective display of their work that anyone can understand. An 80,000-word thesis would take about nine hours to present; 3MT competitors have to do it in 180 seconds.

This year the competition is open to both doctoral and masters students.

Graduate students who participate in the program have a chance at competing at the Council of Southern Graduate Schools annual meeting March 8 in New Orleans. But 3MT isn’t designed just to be a competition. Participants learn how to best present themselves to human resources representatives or interviewers, too.

Will Guin, of Winfield, a graduate student in civil, construction and environmental engineering, won the 2013 competition, which included a $1,000 scholarship, $500 in research and travel money, and a trip to San Antonio where he won the People’s Choice Award at the spring 2014 Council of Southern Graduate School competition.

Guin’s presentation featured “pop-tubes” which use microwaves to create a more effective airframe skin for the Boeing 787 aircraft.

“Our goal is to produce students who are marketable,” said Dr. David Francko, associate provost and dean of the Graduate School. “We take pride in the fact that students who earn a graduate degree at the University have excellent placement rates.”

Learning how to relate to those who aren’t in academe is key for new doctoral graduates seeking jobs.

“You have to show that you’re marketable, and that you’re worth employing,” said Dr. Andrew Goodliffe, assistant dean of the Graduate School.

As more and more funding of higher education comes from private donations, it’s vital for prospective faculty members to share the importance of their work.

“We expect our faculty members to be able to talk to our donors,” Francko said. “Gone are the days where it was cute or endearing to be one of those academics who is kind of removed from reality a little bit.”

3MT originated at The University of Queensland in Australia, but now more than 20 universities in the southeastern United States are active in the competition.

The competition is unique in that it does not separate competitors by fields. It is, in the truest sense, an open competition among graduate students. And, it doesn’t encourage competitors to dumb down their research, either.

“We’re looking for students who will be able to distill their ideas,” Goodliffe said. “They have to be comfortable talking in front of a large audience, and that’s not every student. The key will be to look at one’s research and find the real-world applications in it.”

Cash prizes will be awarded to campus winners, with the overall winner also provided with a full travel grant to attend the CSGS meeting and represent UA at the regional competition.


Bobby Mathews, UA Media Relations, 205/348-4956 or


Dr. David Francko, dean of The Graduate School,