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Grad Students Shine in Three-Minute Thesis Competition

The 2023 version of the annual competition showcased the best and brightest of humanities student research.

Three minutes. One static PowerPoint slide. No animations, no props, no music. The Three-Minute Thesis competition, held annually in the College of Humanities and across BYU, doesn’t seem to be an ideal situation for students to present on the findings from a graduate thesis. But the constraints can spark creativity and innovation.

Held on February 23, this year’s competition featured six students—each from different MA programs in the College—who presented on topics ranging from the political attitudes in the works of C. S. Lewis to the effects of hearing music on language acquisition. Students competed not just for pride but for prizes: the first-, second-, and third-place winners were awarded cash prizes of $1000, $750, and $500, respectively.

The winning presentation was delivered by Alexandra Butterfield (Comparative Studies ’23), who discussed her interpretation of depictions of the Virgin Mary in Catholic art from 16th-century Europe. Specifically, she argued that the Virgin Mary is depicted as a sacrifice, and her mother, Anne, is depicted as a saint. She identified imagery in Jan de Beer’s 1520 painting The Birth of the Virgin and explained how visual motifs imbue the figures with religious meaning.

From left to right: 3MT winners Mishelle Kehoe, Alexandra Butterfield, Lauren Bezzant

The second-place winner was Mishelle Kehoe (TESOL ’23). Kehoe discussed shadowing—a language learning technique in which language learners repeat speech as they hear it—and exposed erroneous conclusions in existing research. “Previous literature up until this point has lacked a control group,” she said, going on to cite her own study, in which the control group had similar proficiency gains as the experimental group.

In third place was Lauren Bezzant (SLaT ’23), who presented on a project she developed called LinguaPalooza: an experiential language-learning contest. The goal of the project is to improve language learning outside of the classroom by offering learners fun challenges and contact with other speakers of the language. “This has helped students with gaining better cultural awareness and understanding of their target culture,” she explained.

Though these three came away with the prizes, each competitor offered a tantalizing, bite-sized overview of their research. Here’s the full list of competitors and their presentations:

  • Megan Johnson (English MA): “The Politics of Education in Narnia” 
  • Breanna Jones (Spanish Pedagogy MA): “Interpreting Communally: How Service Learning Impacts Interpreting Proficiency” 
  • Mishelle Kehoe (TESOL MA): “The Impact of Shadowing on Intermediate ESL Students” 
  • Alexandra Butterfield (Comparative Studies MA): “The Unburnt Offering: Mary as a Co-Sacrifice in Early Sixteenth-Century Northern Birth of the Virgin Images.” 
  • Lauren Bezzant (SLaT MA) “LinguaPalooza: An Experiential Language Learning Contest” 
  • Deven Hunsaker (Linguistics MA): “The Effect of Musical Training on Second Language Grammar Acquisition” 

Butterfield will represent the College of Humanities at the university-wide competition. Support her and the College of Humanities by attending the event on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.