Kumari and Yin pictured with awards

Chemical Engineering PhD students shine at Three Minute Thesis competition

Eight ChE graduate students presented in the final round of 3MT to develop skills for effectively communicating their research to a general audience.

Chemical Engineering PhD students demonstrated remarkable success at the Michigan Engineering Three Minute Thesis Competition, making it to the final round and receiving two prestigious awards.

The University of Michigan’s College of Engineering hosted the competition challenging graduate students to communicate the essence of their thesis research within three minutes, using a single PowerPoint slide. The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) encourages students to simplify and convey complex concepts to a general audience, a task that would typically take hours.

Judging criteria include the clarity and conciseness of the presentation regarding the research question, the research strategy, results and the explanation of the outcomes and impact of the research.

Among the finalists were Chemical Engineering students Tobias Dwyer, Alain Kadar, Misché Hubbard, Syahidah Mohd Khairi, Chih-Mei Young, Yu Zhang, Claire Yin and Abha Kumari.

The 3MT competition offers five distinct awards, including first place, runner-up distinctions such as the Engineering Innovation Award, the Fundamental Science Award, and the Equity-centered Engineering Award as well as the People’s Choice Award.

Abha Kumari, a Chemical Engineering student from the Nagrath Lab, was honored with the Fundamental Science Award. Her thesis focuses on harnessing the potential of extracellular vesicles for the study of cancer and aging using microfluidic devices. She attributes her inspiration for this topic to her advisor and leader of the Nagrath Lab, Dr. Sunitha Nagrath.

Kumari found the most challenging aspect of the competition was condensing a 90-minute research talk into just three minutes. She diligently refined her presentation, ensuring it contained only the essential points, and practiced until she was confident.

“It’s not the science that the audience pays the most attention to, but how well they can relate to it,” Kumari said. “Three minutes may seem short, but 180 seconds is ample time to convince them that your science is astounding!”

In addition, Claire Yin, a Chemical Engineering student affiliated with the Linic and Singh Labs, was awarded the People’s Choice Award. Her research revolves around capturing and converting CO2 into more valuable products through electrolysis, an approach that utilizes renewable electric energy to mitigate CO2 emissions.

Yin identified the presentation portion of the competition as her greatest challenge. “When faced with a room of over 50 people my confidence conveniently vanished,” Yin said. “I knew that once I started speaking, I would be fine, so I just kept repeating the first 30 seconds of my talk as practice.”

The short time frame allowed Yin and other students the opportunity to practice pitching their research to a broad audience.

“It was a fast, and brutally honest, way to determine if I was overcomplicating the story,” Yin said. “I was confident that a broader audience would have no problem understanding my research after refining the presentation a few times.”

In addition to the Chemical Engineering students that presented their thesis, many others were involved in planning the event including Do Hoon Kim, Kody Whisnant, Neha Nagpal and Shawn Lu.

Kumari and Yin pictured with awards
Abha Kumari and Claire Yin with their 3MT awards.

The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) was initially developed by the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008 and has gained popularity in universities across 85 countries. Awarded students receive cash prizes, while all participants have the opportunity to enhance their communication and presentation skills.