Published March 2, 2021
Last year’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition at UB took place in person — only without an audience due to COVID-19.
3MT is back this spring for the fifth year and the pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere, so that means it’s a fully virtual event for 2021. And that has posed some unique challenges for this year’s participants. (Also unique: This year’s judges are former 3MT winners.)
The competition is all about judging participants on their ability to effectively convey the essence and importance of their research in an engaging way to a non-specialist audience. They’re allotted no more than three minutes, and can use only one Powerpoint slide.
Given the Zoom format for this year’s event, taking place at 3 p.m. Friday, visuals are of even greater importance. Enter University Communications visual expert Douglas Levere. Levere assisted each of the 12 3MT participants by coaching them on how to present on Zoom, guiding them on everything from where to place the camera, to lighting, to posture.
“My goal was to teach them how to be better communicators and better broadcasters, since they are presenting virtually,” explains Levere, a digital image specialist in University Communications. “It’s all about promoting the students and getting people to digest their content.”
Plus, to help promote this year’s finalists, Levere created virtual portraits that integrate a photo of each participant with an image that visually captures their research. Bios of each finalist and their portraits are on the 3MT website.
“Selecting a photograph that represents their research was an opportunity for the graduate students to think very creatively and communicate their research in an innovative way,” says Sandra J. Flash, associate vice provost for academic affairs. “The personal portrait allowed the students to have some fun and show off their personalities. Doug’s work to combine the images has resulted in truly brilliant works of art that really tell the story of these graduate students and their research.”
Take, for example, the virtual portrait of Sarah Metcalfe, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Oral Biology, School of Dental Medicine, whose topic is “When Good Turns Bad in the Oral Cavity.” For Metcalfe’s virtual portrait, we see her peering into a human mouth, from the mouth’s point-of-view.
Or, there’s Devyani Jivani, a materials and design innovation PhD candidate, whose presentation is titled “Rethinking ‘Needle in a Haystack’ Approach in Materials Discovery.” Jivani is developing methods that allow for the extraction of distinctive features from microstructural images that correlate with the performance of a material.
“That’s very much part of the analogy of her work,” Levere says. “Normally, the science of what she’s looking for is like finding a needle in a haystack. With her research, it becomes easier to find that needle, so I thought, let’s bring that out visually.”
In Jivani’s virtual portrait, she is holding a large sewing needle and standing in front of a giant stack of hay.
More information on this year’s event is available on the 3MT website. The competition is co-hosted by The Graduate School at UB and Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars, and is sponsored by the Innovation Hub powered by UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships.