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Three Minute Thesis: So Much Research, So Little Time

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition is the academic equivalent of an all-out sprint—one which puts students’ scholarly and oratory skills to the test.

It's difficult to conduct research and write your findings in a paper—expressing those research findings verbally in under three minutes sounds impossible. Yet seven graduate students took upon themselves this seemingly impossible task in the 10th annual college-wide 3-minute thesis competition, held on Thursday, February 24.

The rules of the contest are relatively simple: students must present the results of their research in under three minutes, providing enough background to make their research comprehensible to a non-specialist audience. As if that isn’t hard enough, students are only allowed the aid of a single static presentation slide. The competition was judged by a panel of three professors from different departments in the college. Prizes of $1000, $750, and $500 were awarded to students placing first, second, and third.

Nathan Adamson (Linguistics MA) took first in the competition, presenting his research on how Filipino people who speak Hiligaynon use reduplication (repetition of sounds or words) in their vocabulary. His presentation was peppered with quirky examples of reduplication in English to demonstrate. He explained, “reduplication is often used to add meaning to a word, like when your friends ask ‘do you like her? Or do you like-like her?’” Notice the differences in sound and meaning that are created with repetition. As Adamson described, Hiligaynon makes similar but more frequent use of reduplication.

Linguistics MA student Nathan Adamson stands on a stage, presenting at the 2022 Humanities 3MT competition with a a slide of Hiligaynon linguistic forms behind him.
Linguistics MA student Nathan Adamson presents at the 2022 Humanities 3MT competition

The time constraint limited Adamson to a few select examples, but as he commented after the competition, it isn’t just the short time limit that made things challenging; the non-specialist audience posed one of the biggest difficulties in communicating his research. “One of the hardest things is compressing things unconventionally. You have to talk about your topic in a new way that you’re not used to in your own academic sphere.”

Kath Richards (Creative Writing MFA) won second place with her discussion of vampire novels. Richards traced a rough outline of the history of vampire literature and suggested a unifying theme: writers use vampires as a narrative tool to deal with difficult topics. Third place went to Michelle Lung (TESOL MA), who presented on how writing teachers can use rubric training to increase student writing ability, a consideration of special importance for teaching writing to multilingual students.

Adamson, Richards, and Lung took home the prize money, but it wasn’t an easy decision for the judges—other competitors presented impressive oratory skills and research spanning a breadth of issues in the humanities. Here is the full list of students who competed:

  • Michelle Lung (TESOL MA) “The impact of Rubric Training on Students’ Self-Efficacy" 
  • Kath Richards (Creative Writing MFA) “New American Vampire; An Exploration into the Literary” 
  • Rachael Reynolds (SLaT MA) “So, you think you can speak like a spy? The 411 on 007’s language SELF-assessment" 
  • Kirsten Burningham (English MA) “Authoritative Practices for Teacher Feedback on Student Writing” 
  • Calvin Westfall (Spanish MA) “Bilingualism as a Translator’s Competency” 
  • Nathan Adamson (Linguistics MA) “The Typology of Morphological Reduplication in Hiligaynon” 
  • Lettie Burton (Comparative Studies MA) “Memories of Massacre & Martyrdom” 

Nathan Adamson will carry the torch for the College of Humanities when he faces off against winners from other colleges in the university-wide competition on March 10, 2022, at 10 a.m. in the WSC Varsity Theater. Come support Adamson and explore in bite-size intervals the groundbreaking research going on all over campus; if you can spare three minutes, you might just learn something amazing.