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The University of Alabama

3-Minute Thesis Competition Comes to UA

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Out-of-touch, bumbling academics are played for laughs in popular media, but administrators at The University of Alabama are attempting to put that stereotype to rest.

The University is embracing a new program, 3MT, or Three Minute Thesis, to help doctoral students distill their theses into an “elevator pitch”—a short, effective display of their work that anyone can understand.

Doctoral students who participate in the program have a chance at competing at the Council of Southern Graduate Schools annual meeting , Feb. 20-23, 2014, in San Antonio, Texas. But 3MT isn’t designed just to be a competition. Participants learn how to best present themselves to human resources representatives or interviewers, too.

“Our goal is to produce students who are marketable,” said Dr. David Francko, associate provost and dean of the Graduate School. “We take pride in the fact that students who earn a graduate degree at the University have excellent placement rates.”

Learning how to relate to those who aren’t in academe is key for new doctoral graduates seeking jobs.

“You have to show that you’re marketable, and that you’re worth employing,” said Dr. Andrew Goodliffe, assistant dean of the Graduate School.

As more and more funding of higher education comes from private donations, it’s vital for prospective faculty members to share the importance of their work.

“We expect our faculty members to be able to talk to our donors,” Francko said. “Gone are the days where it was cute or endearing to be one of those academics who is kind of removed from reality a little bit.”

3MT originated in Australia, but now more than 21 universities in the United States are active in the thesis competition. This is the University’s first time fielding competitors.

“You have 180 seconds to break your thesis down into a concept that anyone can understand,” Francko said. “You have to see the big picture and be able to think backwards to explain your concept. It’s a challenge.”

The competition is unique in that it does not separate competitors by fields. It is, in the truest sense, an open competition among doctoral students. And it doesn’t encourage competitors to dumb down their research, either.

“We’re looking for students who will be able to distill down their ideas,” Goodliffe said. “They have to be comfortable talking in front of a large audience, and that’s not every student. The key will be to look at one’s research and find the real-world applications in it.”

In addition to the CSGS competition, event organizers are also attempting to put together two other competitions: one, an SEC-only competition, since at least two rivals schools already field teams—The University of Georgia and Auburn University.

Francko and graduate deans at other Alabama institutions—including Auburn, UAB, and UAH—also hope to put together an in-state competition as well, in time to coincide with the 2014 session of the Alabama Legislature.

“We’d like to present our campus winners against the other in-state schools and converge on Montgomery to demonstrate the value of the graduate education in helping Alabama’s economy,” Francko said.

Doctoral students interested in participating should contact their department chairs/heads, who need to contact the Graduate School by Aug. 30 indicating their department’s willingness to participate. Later in the semester participating departments will choose their winners by holding “heats”—competition to choose the best in-department candidates—or by nomination.

The University-wide competition will take place later in the fall semester, likely the week of Nov. 18, with the exact timing and format dependent on the number of participating departments and students, and it would be open to the public,  with representatives from civic, business and academic life judging the winners. Cash prizes will be awarded to campus winners, with the overall winner also provided with a full travel grant to attend the CSGS meeting and represent UA at the regional competition.

“This is a great opportunity for doctoral students to see how you can take a 200-page thesis or dissertation and translate it into three minutes,” said Dr. Cori Perdue, programs director for the Graduate School. “I’m looking for students who may not be the best speakers, who may not have the most raw talent, but who are willing to accept that challenge and work toward being ready to compete,” said Francko.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.