Three-Minute Thesis

Chetan Jaiswal was one of the contestants in the Three Minute thesis competition. Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Mastering the art of communicating relevance

The first step in effective communication is to get your audience’s attention. Words like “emergency” tend to help.

An image of a human with very fish-like features isn’t a bad visual aid, either.

Those were just two of the tools Aqdas Afzal used to convey the importance and relevance of his research to a lay audience – and in the process, win the first Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Afzal, a Ph.D. student in Economics, will now go on to represent UMKC at a regional competition sponsored by the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools in April in Chicago.

Afzal’s presentation, “Countering Climate Change: The relationship between economic growth and fossil fuels in developing countries,” described how his research examines the factors that drive a reduction in fossil fuel consumption in highly developed nations such as the U.S. and western Europe, even as economic growth continues. That compares to factors that drive increased fossil fuel consumption corresponding with economic growth in developing nations such as India.

Why should we care? “We are in a climate emergency,” Afzal stated with earnest conviction, “creating a world of increased risks and instability.”

Participants are limited to a single PowerPoint slide as a visual aid. Afzal’s contained two easy-to-understand graphs comparing fossil fuel consumption over time in the developed and developing worlds; and a poster depicting the fish-headed human and the words “Stop Climate Change Before It Changes You.”

The U.S. Council of Graduate Schools has encouraged such competitions at universities across the country. The goal is to counteract the difficulty university researchers have traditionally had in relating the significance and value of their work to the public at large – and to policymakers in particular.

The Three Minute Thesis concept originated from the University of Queensland in Australia, and has been adopted by other major universities worldwide. It was brought to UMKC by the School of Graduate Studies.

The major goal of the program is enhanced oral communication. Essentially the Three Minute Thesis is a three-minute-maximum oral summary of a student’s dissertation or thesis research, aimed at educated lay people.

Students need to identify the most critical findings of the research and relay them to individuals unfamiliar with the technical subject matter. They need to state only the major take-home message they want to convey, without using technical jargon.

Panels of judges graded two rounds of competition at UMKC’s student union, involving 29 graduate-level students. In addition to the judges’ selections, the audiences in two meeting rooms also voted on “People’s Choice” winners.

The People’s Choice winners were Afzal and Emine Demiroz. Demiroz is pursuing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a co-discipline in English.

First-place winners in the initial round were Demiroz and Dea Marx, a doctoral candidate in Higher Education Administration. Runner-up to Afzal in the final round was Ali Shafiq, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Bioinformatics.

Afzal, a Fulbright scholar from Pakistan, said he practiced his presentation in front of an audience of one – his wife – more than 50 times.

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