Skip to main content

Three-Minute Thesis: Linguistics Style

Master’s students compete in department-level competition.

Could you present an entire master’s thesis in just three minutes? Graduate students Deven Hunsaker (Linguistics ’23) and Mishelle Kehoe (TESOL ’23), along with several other students, did just that on February 16.

The Linguistics Department’s Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition brought together linguistics and TESOL MA students to share condensed versions of their theses. One winner was selected from each category.


Headshot of Deven Hunsaker
Deven Hunsaker, linguistics MA student

Deven Hunsaker, the linguistics winner, presented “The Effect of Musical Training on Second Language Grammar Acquisition.” His research explores the link between music and language acquisition.

To study this link, Hunsaker gave participants both a music aptitude test and a grammar test using a new grammar form that he taught the participants prior to the experiment. He used brain scanning technology to observe the participants’ brain waves during the tests and compared the participants’ grammar test results with their musical aptitude.

Ultimately, Hunsaker found that musical aptitude does not predict second language grammar success. But, he explained, “By understanding what makes people better language learners, it can make us better language teachers.”


Headshot of Mishelle Kehoe
Mishelle Kehoe, TESOL MA student

Mishelle Kehoe, the TESOL winner, presented “The Impact of Shadowing on Intermediate-level ESL Students.” Previous research on shadowing—which is when language learners repeat words in real time that a native speaker has said—has proven that this language learning tool increases listening comprehension and native pronunciation, but studies have lacked both a control group and a focus on intermediate-level English learners.

Participants in Kehoe’s study were split into a control and a treatment group, and those in the treatment group spent 10 weeks shadowing a native English speaker, practicing for 5–10 minutes a day. The results showed improvement in all four categories measured: comprehensibility, fluency, accentedness, and imitation abilities.

However, Kehoe found that “there was no statistically significant difference in the treatment group versus the control group.” She urged researchers to include control groups in their studies so language teachers and learners “have empirical data to support how [they] choose to devote [their] pronunciation time and efforts.”

For students interested in competing next year, Hunsaker offered this advice: “This is my second time participating in the competition—I didn’t win it last year. So keep signing up if you don’t win!” Kehoe added, “My advice would be to have a clear, simple-to-read slide without too much text. It’s helpful to have one or two simple tables that highlight your research.”

Both Hunsaker and Kehoe went on to compete in the College-level 3MT competition on February 23. Read about those competition winners here.