Eight final-round participants competed in Binghamton University’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition on Thursday, April 29.

The 3MT Competition was first developed by Australia’s University of Queensland in 2008. The competition gives graduate students an opportunity to present their research to a nonspecialist audience in three minutes, awarding monetary prizes to students placing first, second, third and the elected people’s choice. This year, the Graduate School at BU hosted the final round of the spring 2021 3MT Competition for BU students virtually through Zoom.

This year saw a variety of topics, ranging from women’s reproductive health to artificial intelligence (AI). The 3MT Competition was for students currently enrolled in course-complete master’s programs and doctoral students who have been admitted to candidacy in good academic standing. The research presented had to be associated with BU and participating students had to be be in the final stages of their graduate career.

First place went to Lamar Thomas, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in microbiology and immunology, and her faculty adviser was Laura Cook, an assistant professor of biology. Thomas’s presentation focused on a novel protein identified by Cook called Sak_1753, which is found on the streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacteria. Thomas said a GBS vaccine would prevent vaginal colonization in women and prevent GBS-related newborn mortality and morbidity.

Thomas first heard about the 3MT Competition in 2019 and decided to participate in February the following year.

“Needless to say, I was super excited to participate in the competition,” Thomas said. “In addition to developing my oral communication skills, it has allowed me the opportunity to share my passion for my research with a more general audience.”

Cook said her job was to guide Thomas’ project by helping with initial ideas, training in the lab and analyzing data.

“As a third-year student, [Thomas] is becoming increasingly independent and comes up with ideas for new experiments with little help from me,” Cook said. “While I help to guide the project, overall, she is the driving force behind it. For the 3MT [Competition], she prepared the [slides] and presentation on her own. I listened to her run-through and helped with editing. I watched the final round of the 3MT [Competition] and was so proud of her win! I know she worked very hard on it and she was up against some very strong competition which made her win all the more impressive.”

This year’s second place went to Manjushree Aithal, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering and AI and signal processing. Her faculty adviser was Xiaohua (Edward) Li, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Aithal said the 3MT Competition was a rewarding experience and gave her the opportunity to highlight the importance of her research in today’s world of AI. Her research focused on defending the recently discovered hacks on AI. Aithal said this area is relatively new, but AI is used everywhere and these hacks on this technology are a major threat. With her adviser’s guidance, Aithal aims to develop a defense against these hacks.

“For me, it’s always about the journey, rather than the final results,” Aithal said. “I was more focused on making that moment memorable and didn’t think much about the result. But when I got to know I won, it was like icing on the cake. I still sometimes can’t believe I made it to the top three and have to pinch myself to believe it.”

Yahya Bouhafa is pursuing a doctorate of education (Ed.D.) in education and won third place. His faculty adviser was Amber Simpson, an assistant professor in the department of teaching, learning and educational leadership. He presented his research looking at how teacher self-disclosures support the development of classroom behavioral and emotional engagement within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes. The goal of his research is to generate different recommendations and guidelines for professors on how to approach their teaching within higher education classes so that support and emotional and behavioral engagement are maintained.

“It really felt great [to win],” Bouhafa said. “I was so happy and honored, especially that members of my family and colleagues were watching.”

Simpson said her role was to support and provide feedback to Bouhafa as his adviser.

“In terms of the 3MT Competition, [Bouhafa] took initiative as he aspires to share his research with others and practice his presentation skills,” Simpson said. “[Bouhafa] continues to amaze me.”

The last winner was the people’s choice winner Josefina Vizcaino. Her faculty adviser was Jeffrey Pietras, an associate professor of geological sciences and environmental studies. Vizcaino worked as a geoscientist for an oilfield service company in southern Argentina for six years after receiving her bachelor’s in geology from Universidad Nacional de La Plata and is a Fulbright Scholar pursuing a master’s of science in geology and earth science. Vizcaino’s research took sedimentological descriptions and geochemical data to reconstruct the story of the drowning of a tropical beach in a previously unstudied area of the Mohawk Valley from 450 million years ago.

“After they announced the third, second and then first place I thought that there were no more chances for me, but when they said my name at the end I was really happy,” Vizcaino said. “Winning the people’s choice award was very rewarding because it means that the guests or the audience really understood what I was explaining about my research, and that was nice. I think that preparing the speech was the most challenging part, because you need to talk about your two years of work in only three minutes, so you need to choose the words wisely to keep it simple, catch your audience’s attention and guide them through the conclusions.”