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PhD candidates share their knowledge — in three minutes or less

Phil Schneider, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering, makes his winning three-minute thesis pitch at the first annual 3MT Competition at UB. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By GROVE POTTER

Published April 18, 2017

“Next year, we plan to expand 3MT to provide more graduate students the opportunity to improve communication skills and to represent their research to a wide audience both inside and outside the university.”
Graham Hammill, vice provost for graduate education and dean
UB Graduate School

UB’s first annual 3MT Competition — in which PhD candidates explained their research and its implications in three minutes — drew 15 finalists, and garnered support from across the campus at the event on April 7 at the Center for the Arts Screening Room.

Three winners were selected by a five-member panel of judges comprised of community leaders from business and industry, medicine, the arts and media. A People’s Choice winner was selected via electronic voting by the audience in attendance and those watching a  livestream video of the competition.

In addition to awarding four cash prizes, the event was designed to help the young researchers hone their presentation skills and ability to communicate their research to broad audiences. The 3MT competition (for “three minute thesis”) is conducted at more than 350 universities in 59 countries.

“By all measures, 3MT was an immense success,” says Graham Hammill, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School. “Over 120 graduate students participated in workshops leading up to the event, and 30 doctoral students entered the initial round of competition. Next year, we plan to expand 3MT to provide more graduate students the opportunity to improve communication skills and to represent their research to a wide audience both inside and outside the university.”

The first-prize winner was Phil Schneider, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering. His presentation, titled “Test Phantom Fingers for Higher Biometric Security,” brought him $1,000. His current research includes development of new health care-related wearable technologies, use of biometric technologies in the mobile consumer market and creation of test phantoms for medical sensor testing and validation.

The second-prize winner was Danielle Twum, a PhD candidate in microbiology and immunology. Her presentation, called “Switch Cancer Off!” won $750. Twum is studying the immune response in cancer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and hopes to bring science to the general public with new ways to explain scientific mysteries.

The third-prize winner, Hooman Ansari, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, won $500 for his presentation, “Pacemaker Energy Harvester.” He has worked on shoe energy harvesters and pacemaker energy harvesters as part of his research, where he has two patents.

The People’s Choice Award winner was Saeede Eftekhari, a PhD candidate in management science and systems. Her presentation, called “Less Pain, Lower Cost by Health Information Sharing,” received $250. Eftekhari is interested in health care analytics and the economics of health information technologies.

The competitors and their presentations can be viewed online.

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

The competition was co-sponsored by Blackstone LaunchPad at UB and the Graduate School. Blackstone LaunchPad is a campus-based entrepreneurship program designed to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career path.

The event featured introductions by President Satish Tripathi and Provost Charles F. Zukoski. Scott Weber, vice president for student life, served as emcee.

The other finalists, and their departments, were M. Atif Afzal, Chemical and Biological Engineering; Peter Bloomingdale, Pharmaceutical Studies; Antonella Di Giulio, Music; Lucie Kafkova, Microbiology and Immunology; Holly Keily, Linguistics; Gokhan Kul, Computer Science and Engineering; Kristin Maki, Communication; Van Anh Nguyen, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Xiaonan Tai, Geography; Nadav Weinstock, Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; and Chong Zhang, Pharmacology and Toxicology.