Three-Minute Thesis Competition

Could you distill years of complicated research into an easily understandable explanation lasting just three minutes? Thirteen USC School of Pharmacy PhD students and postdoctoral researchers faced that challenge in the school’s second Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Topics included new cancer treatment methods, how natural products can be mined to fight superbugs, and the effects of toxic chemicals on male fertility. Competitors were scored on overall organization, presentation quality, potential benefit of the research, market opportunity and credibility.

Postdoctoral researcher Vanessa Brouard (lab of Associate Professor Martine Culty). (Photo by Walter Urie)

“This competition is important in helping students work on their communication skills and understand what their research is really about,” says Liz Aguiniga, the school’s associate director of graduate affairs, who organized the event.

“Communicating our research to the public is part of our responsibility as scientists,” agrees third-year PhD candidate Xiaojing Shi, whose talk on how to make cancer treatments safer earned first place. “It will help the public understand how science has made their lives better and appreciate the importance of scientific research.”

Second-year PhD candidate Jeff Dai came in second, and postdoctoral researcher Lisa Walter finished third.

PhD student Zhefu (Jeff) Dai (lab of Assistant Professor Yong “Tiger” Zhang). (Photo by Walter Urie)

The top three presenters received up to $300 in awards. But the real prize is honing the ability to communicate clearly and precisely — a valuable skill in any profession and one becoming increasingly essential for scientists.

“I learned the importance of telling a story rather than hiding behind the data,” Shi says.

The 3MT competition began in 2008 at the University of Queensland, Australia, and is now held at more than 600 universities and institutions worldwide.