Stillwater News Press

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June 26, 2013

Oklahoma State University graduate students have three minutes to win it

STILLWATER, Okla. — Twelve of the brightest minds in Oklahoma State University’s Graduate School took to the podium with a limited amount of time to describe their research in a competition at the Student Union Theater Tuesday.

The first Three Minute Thesis Competition accepted 12 entries from the more than 40 that applied. Students were given three minutes and one static PowerPoint slide to educate attendees on their work while being judged on communication style, comprehension and audience engagement.

Judges were OSU Vice President of Student Affairs Lee Bird, Stillwater Public Schools Superintendent Ann Caine, Guthrie Scottish Rite Foundation Executive Secretary Robert Davis, Halliburton Technical Applications Manager Steve Sackett and OSU Director of Communications Gary Shutt.

Students from a variety of majors, including chemical engineering, educational psychology, zoology and geography, took part.

OSU biochemistry doctoral student Cynthia Dobbs said she saw the contest as a welcome challenge.

“It looked very interesting to me to try to condense all the work that you were doing over five years into three minutes to explain to a very non-specialist audience,” she said.

Dobbs said she went through necessary steps to prepare.

“I just went through a series of writeups because I’m a biochemistry major and it’s very hard to get those complicated words that we usually use to convey our thesis project to a scientific audience into regular words that a general audience could understand,” Dobbs said.

She said she wrote down her explanation in scientific terms and then, with the help of her husband, switched complicated terms with simplified alternatives. The finished product remained long and after numerous revisions, Dobbs was able to fit her talk into a three-minute window.

“You want to keep them grounded in what you’re saying so they can follow along, so they can grade you and judge you appropriately, but you don’t want to lose the science of it,” she said. “You don’t want to make it so trivial, that it’s not true to the science.”

Dobbs spoke of global warming and a solution to fossil fuels which included the cloning of enzymes to create fungi that could break down cellulose in a fast, highly efficient rate. She also credits her adviser, Andrew Mort, in preparing her for the opportunity.

Dobbs won the People’s Choice Award and was awarded $250.

The third-place winners, awarded $500 in a tie, were grad students Shaun McCoshum, zoology, and Shanshan Cai, mechanical engineering.

Second place and the $750 award went to zoology grad student Medhavi Ambarder and first place and the $1,000 grand prize went to mechanical engineering grad student Ali Asmari Sadabad.

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