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Your thesis in three minutes

"So what's it about?"

That's a question grad students who spend months or years writing a thesis or dissertation often struggle to answer in a succinct and engaging way.

Portland State's new Three Minute Thesis competition is the ultimate test of that skill. The rules: Grad students must present their research to a panel of judges with only one slide and no props — in three minutes or less.

"Distilling something I've spent years working on down to three minutes was obviously challenging," says Alex Bigazzi, a doctoral student in transportation engineering. "Now I can more easily and quickly communicate the key ideas of my dissertation to others — and I'm sure it is less boring than what I would have come up with on the spot."

The University of Queensland, Australia created the competition in 2008, and it has since spread to 80 universities in a dozen countries. This year Portland State University is hosting its first campus competition and the statewide championship.

Twenty-two PSU graduate students competed in the preliminary round with presentations on topics such as characteristics of pinot noir vineyard soils, harnessing electricity from trees, and butterfly conservation.

Twelve students made it to the finals May 10. The top three — first place, runner-up and an audience pick — will go up against students from the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University in the state championships on May 17 at PSU’s Hoffmann Hall.

Judges for the PSU finals are Therese Bottomly, director of state content/enterprise for The Oregonian; former PSU President Judith Ramaley; Oregon Representative Jennifer Williamson; Mark Sytsma, associate vice president for Research; and retired environmental lawyer Rich Canaday.

Judges for the state championships include Cheryl Myers, chief of staff for the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission; John Horvick, president of City Club; Peter Korn, writer for the Portland Tribune; and Tim Nesbitt, a writer on public affairs and former adviser to Govs. John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski.

More than 150 undergraduate and graduate students also will present their research on May 7 at the Student Research Symposium.

"Most graduate students today will go on to work outside of academia," says Margaret Everett, dean of Graduate Studies. "Learning how to communicate their findings to a broad audience in a compelling way is a critical skill."

Three Minute Thesis
Finals
4-6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 10
Hoffmann Hall Auditorium

State Championship
3-5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 17
Hoffmann Hall Auditorium

Student Research Symposium
9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday, May 7
Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) 3rd floor