Last month, in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department at NC State, faculty, staff and students participated in their very own version of a national competition called the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT). But in this competition, the faculty were the ones to present their research in a succinct way — to clearly and concisely explain their thesis to be understandable by their students. We spoke to student judge Bryan Maxwell and competition winner Dr. Mike Boyette to learn more about this competition and why the department decided to turn the tables on the professors.
The Purpose of the BAE Three-Minute Thesis
The 3MT serves a clear purpose: the overall intention of this competition is “to emphasize students’ ability to ‘sell’ their research in a way that is relatable, understandable to those outside their field, and emphasizes the broader impacts of their research,” according to student judge, Bryan Maxwell.
Bryan compares the competition to an elevator pitch. He says, “The competition challenges students to boil down what their research is about and why it is important. As researchers, we often get bogged down in the details and technicalities of how we did something, rather than why it’s important. This is a pretty important skill for those looking to go into industry.”
For the BAE version of the competition, Bryan explains, “As graduate students, we decided to turn the tables on the faculty and ask them to do the same, quickly present the significance of their work. We thought this process was also good for students to learn which faculty are doing research they might be interested in.”
Organized by graduate students Rachel Taylor and Alex Greeson, this was the first year the department put on the competition for faculty, which was a big success. According to Dr. Mike Boyette, “The rules are simple. Anything goes but the three-minute time limit is strictly enforced. 3MT’s are mostly entertainment with a bit of enlightenment on the side. Enthusiasm in the presentation counts more than anything else.” Dr. Boyette confesses, “It is not easy to squish a complicated research project into a three-minute talk.”
The Stand-Out Presentations
Dr. Boyette was named the winner of the competition; his 3MT considered how marketing, psychology and perception relate to improving sweet potato production and sales. Dr. Boyette says, “My 3MT was about my work scanning sweet potatoes for factors that influence shape and size. I had examples of ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ sweet potatoes I held up for the audience to see.”
He says that his secret to success was his ability to entertain the crowd: “If you are enthusiastic and a bit clever, you will be a winner. I asked lots of rhetorical questions and answered them. I talked loud and was animated, like an old-time medicine show. The second place winner came out dressed as a swamp monster!”
The credit for the swamp monster goes to Dr. Michael Burchell, who Bryan claims “got a lot of thumbs up for dressing up.” He used the costume to explain the importance of wetlands in North Carolina and how they improve water quality.
The presentations serve as a great way for students to understand more about their faculty’s research. Dr. Boyette claims it’s equally rewarding for the professors who participated: “A department member for nearly 35 years, I have done tons of research, extension and teaching on a variety of subjects. I love my job. I like working with students and other faculty and staff.” He thinks participating in the 3MT is a great way to interact with and mentor students: “I had some very good mentors when I was just starting out, so I try to pay it forward by being a good mentor to students and young faculty.”
The 3MT competition was a success amongst students and faculty alike, so hopefully there will be similar events in the future. Bryan says plenty of ways exist to learn more about the BAE department: “I would encourage prospective BAE students to connect with faculty and students to see how our department matches their interests. Our faculty are willing to sit down and talk about what they do.”
Check back each month as we discuss a different aspect of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and what is going on within the department at NC State.