Sure you’ve got research, but can you explain it to people?

PhD pitch competition seeks to help researchers communicate their work to others

By Grove Potter

Release Date: February 17, 2017

Sandra Flash

“This is a skill that every graduate student should have. We’re focusing how to take it down a notch to make graduate research understandable to an intelligent but non-specialist audience.”
Sandra Flash, associate dean
UB’s Graduate School

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Can a PhD student present his or her research to a general audience in an interesting and understandable way — in just three minutes?

That’s the goal of a competition being brought to the University at Buffalo this semester that has taken the academic world by storm. The 3MT competition, which stands for "three minute thesis," was started at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008 and has grown to more than 350 universities in 18 countries.

PhD students who have completed their application to candidacy and are conducting dissertation research are eligible. The goal is to help academics hone their communication skills so they can present their ideas to the public.

“It’s a life skill,” said Sandra Flash, PhD, associate dean of UB’s Graduate School. “This is a skill that every graduate student should have. We’re focusing how to take it down a notch to make graduate research understandable to an intelligent but non-specialist audience.”

The Graduate School website has a detailed outline of the competition, including video clips of winning presentations from around the world.

An informational meeting about the competition, entitled “Public Speaking and Presentation Zen” will be held Wednesday, March 1, from 4 to 5 p.m. in Knox Hall, Room 110, on the North Campus.

In addition to getting practice presenting, the following awards will be presented: 1st place, $1,000; 2nd place, $750; 3rd place, $500; and People’s Choice, $250.

“It pays for the candidates to pack the house with supporters for the People’s Choice award,” Flash said.

Students will be judged on their communication style based on how much it helped the audience understand their research and whether the audience was engaged.

The competition is being co-sponsored by Blackstone LaunchPad at UB. Venture coaches at the LaunchPad office in the Student Union are available to help students hone their presentations.

To apply, a student must create a 90 second video describing their research and its importance. That video must be posted on YouTube, and then applicants go to the website grad.buffalo.edu/3mt to apply. Then they must tweet their video link to the competition at @UB3MT.

A panel of judges will select 12 winners from the video entries to compete in the live event from 3 to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 7, in the Center for the Arts Screening Room. The event is free and open to the public.

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