Students Compete to Present Years of Research in Just Three Minutes

Distill years of complicated research into an “elevator pitch” lasting just three minutes.

Ten USC School of Pharmacy graduate students took on that challenge in the school’s third Three-Minute Thesis competition on Friday, June 14.

Topics included new cancer treatment methods, adjunct therapy to treat Parkinson’s disease and the future of brain tumor diagnosis and treatment. Competitors were scored on overall organization, presentation quality, credibility as well as their description of the potential benefit of the research and market opportunity.

PhD candidate Lucas Gutierrez presents his research on a new treatment method for acute myeloid leukemia. (Photo by Linda Wang)

Learning to explain research, in a language appropriate to a non-specialist audience, cultivates students’ academic, presentation and research communication skills.

“Not everyone they’re going to interact with is familiar with scientific jargon, so acquiring these communication skills will allow the students to go further in their careers,” says event organizer Liz Aguiniga, the school’s associate director of graduate affairs.

“Moving the work from lab to market requires everyone to be on board, not just scientists,” agrees PhD candidate Aida Kouhi, whose talk on using a patient’s own immune system to fight ovarian cancer earned first place.

PhD candidates Rebecca Lim and Tracey Lin came in second and third, respectively.

Ten USC School of Pharmacy graduate students competed in the school’s third annual Three-Minute Thesis competition. (Photo by Linda Wang)

The top three presenters were awarded prizes up to $300. But honing the ability to communicate clearly and precisely to a broad audience was the real prize, students say.

“When you’re so focused on the research, you sometimes forget the human factor,” Kouhi says. “I had to take a step back and present my research in almost an entirely new language.”

The Three-Minute Thesis competition began in 2008 at the University of Queensland, Australia, and is now held at more than 600 universities and institutions worldwide.