At Binghamton University’s first-ever Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, 25 graduate students presented their current research, ranging from celiac disease to automated services, last week.

The 3MT competition originated in 2008 from the University of Queensland in Australia, and was created with the purpose of helping students spread their research in a concise manner. Since then, the competition has spread across the globe, with more than 900 colleges and universities representing 85 countries now hosting their own events. BU is the last of the SUNY schools to host a 3MT competition.

Each student has only three minutes to present what is often a product of years of research. They are limited to only one PowerPoint slide. The preliminary round occurred on Feb. 21, with 25 BU graduate students competing for 10 finalist spots. One of the judges, Gretchen Mahler, associate dean of the graduate school and an associate professor of biomedical engineering, said she was surprised by the diversity of topics.

“I really loved all of the presentations,” Mahler said. “I am in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field and I thought I might be biased toward the STEM presentations, but I thought it was so interesting to hear about other types of work that are happening on campus. It was really hard to be a judge.”

According to Ellen Tilden, one of the event organizers and assistant director for academic and graduate student affairs, of the 25 competitors, 16 were international students who represented Bangladesh, China, Ecuador, India, Iran, Jordan, Peru, Switzerland and Turkey. In October 2019, Tilden was tasked with increasing professional development for graduate students at BU and she said hosting this competition was a great way to do so.

“For us in the graduate school, this is an opportunity to not only help prepare our graduate students for the next chapter of their professional lives, but to better showcase the exciting and promising research being conducted across campus and disciplines,” Tilden said. “Since [BU] is a notable research university, the 3MT competition seemed like a natural next step for us.”

The 10 finalists of BU’s 3MT competition are competing in the next round of the event on Wednesday at Old Union Hall from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The winner of this next round will be awarded $500 and will represent BU at the 2020 Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) annual meeting in Quebec City, Quebec. Tilden said the graduate school plans to sponsor and host the event every spring semester before the annual NAGS meeting.

One of the finalists, Erika Diaz, a second-year graduate student studying biomedical engineering, presented her research on how food additives can weaken the human gut and worsen celiac disease. Diaz said the competition enabled her to fully express her passion for her research topic.

“I am a very passionate person by nature, often too passionate, to the point where I might seem a bit insane when talking about my research,” Diaz said. “I saw the 3MT competition as a wonderful opportunity to allow myself to both feel and show the passion I hold so dear to its full extent.”

Smaraki Mohanty, a third-year Ph.D. student studying management, presented her research on how emotions, specifically anger and empathy, can affect people’s preferences for automated services such as Amazon Go and self-checkout aisles at grocery stores. Mohanty said the competition connected BU students across many disciplines who may not have known about each others’ research without it.

“Sometimes when we are in the field of research, we tend to stay in our cocoon and hardly get the opportunity to know the different kinds of research going around in the other departments of the school,” Mohanty said. “Hence, it was also fascinating to know about the work of other student researchers at [BU].”

Diaz also highlighted the work of her fellow competitors and said presenting alongside them pushed her to better her research.

“It was mind-blowing to be presented with the high-caliber research being conducted at BU; we should definitely make a more significant effort to voice out these fantastic endeavors,” Diaz said. “Additionally, the mental exercise of reducing the research problem to its very fundamentals, disregarding complicated immunological mechanisms, has been crucial for me to gain a much deeper understanding of my topic. It has been impressive the amount of research I have accomplished in these past few weeks and can better explain my experimental results because of that required simplification.”

Other winners of Wednesday’s final round will also be rewarded. The second-place winner will receive $400, the third-place winner will receive $300 and one competitor will be named the People’s Choice winner by the audience and awarded $150. Looking forward to the event, Diaz said she just wants to make an impact on the audience members.

“If I manage to attract attention to my research from people who don’t necessarily get excited about statistics or the methodology, or who think laboratory work is mind-numbingly boring, I will be greatly satisfied,” Diaz said. “I hope there are some people with that mindset in the audience. Maybe I get to change their minds, just a little bit.”