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'Three-Minute Thesis Competition' results in a tie for first place

New Mexico State University's first "Three-Minute Thesis Competition" held March 3, drew a group of graduate students eager to tell the short version of their research while giving students the opportunity to polish their communication skills and engage the audience.

Winners of the College of Arts and Sciences 'Three-Minute Thesis Competition' from left to right are graduate students Alba Chavez, Jeffrey Coughlin, Candace Gray and Marc Scott. The first competition was held March 3, at New Mexico State University. (Courtesy photo)

Tying for first place in the competition were graduate students Jeffrey L. Coughlin and Marc Scott. Coughlin, an astronomy student working on his master's, presented, "Probing Exoplanet Atmospheres." Scott, a doctoral candidate in rhetoric and professional communication, talked about "Epistemologies, Relationships, Values, and Practices: Reconfiguring Writing Assessment through Feminist Qualitative Methodologies."

Coughlin and Scott were awarded $750 each, the combined total of the first and second place awards.

Third place went to Candace Gray, an astronomy student working on her masters. She presented "Nightglow on Venus and its Connection to Solar Flares." She took home $250.

Using only a single, static PowerPoint slide, the 21 contestants were judged on communication style, comprehension and engagement.

"We judged the students not only on their communication skills, but also their comprehension of their research and their enthusiasm," said Michele Nishiguchi, the associate department head of biology and organizer of the event. "After the three minutes, did you want to know more about what they did?"

The People's Choice Award, where the audience selects a favorite and there is no cash prize, went to biology student Alba Chavez for her presentation, "A bugs life: Secrets of a bacterial community."

Judging the competition along with Nishiguchi were Richard Rundell, an emeritus professor in the Department of Language and Linguistics, Michaela Buenemann, an assistant professor of geography and Margaret Goehring, an assistant professor in the art department.

"The students did a really great job," Nishiguchi said. "They put together one slide, with no animations, and they couldn't dress up, all in three minutes. They would be disqualified if they went over that three minutes."

Nishiguchi said the idea for the competition originated in 2008 at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. From there it moved nationally on the continent and eventually included New Zealand.

"What I would like to see is a university-wide competition," Nishiguchi said. "I had a lot of students email me from different departments, and I had to tell them this competition was limited to students from the College of Arts and Sciences. I hope next year the other deans participate."