Le Vi Pham

Graduate students pour countless hours into producing a thesis in hopes of graduating with a doctorate. But the focuses of graduate schools have also grown to encompass more than preparation for a strictly academic environment, and the skill of discussing one’s research in a finite amount of time has become integral to the job search process. 

To prepare for such a challenge, the McDougal Graduate Student Center sponsored the second annual 3-Minute Thesis Championship. The event — hosted in the Loria Center this past Friday — allowed doctoral students to use one slide and a brief presentation to convey their research in three minutes or less to audience members and judges.

“It is very important for all of us in the University to explain what we do to anyone in the world,” said Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Cooley said she was glad this year’s event was well-attended, with more than 100 audience members packing the lecture hall. 

Andrew Richter, board chair of the Graduate School Alumni Association, said it was crucial for students to learn how to sell themselves outside the academic world.

Eleven students from an initial pool of 82 competed in the championship round after advancing past preliminary qualifiers earlier this month. There was an even split among arts and science students, with five finalists from the humanities and social sciences division and six from natural and applied sciences. Beza Getachew GRD ’19 — a fifth-year doctoral student in chemical and environmental engineering — earned first place, going home with $1,200 for her presentation: “Self-Healing Water Filtration Membranes from Concept to Proof.”

As an environmental engineer, Getachew’s presentation centered on her goal of creating the first self-healing water filtration membrane. She used reversible chemical bonds and substances that expand in the presence of water to design a filter that can self-heal within minutes.

“As graduate students, we get to travel to a lot of conferences and talk to a lot of people about our research, but we are always talking to the same people who are very well aware of the work that we’re doing, so I wanted to get some practice explaining my research to people outside the field,” Getachew said.

When she tried to communicate what she was doing to friends in the past, she would get a lot of frowns of confusion, and she wanted to change that, she said.

Individual donors and the Yale Graduate Student Alumni Association contributed to prizes received by first-, second- and third-place finishers, as well as the crowd-favorite awards, given to one presentation each from the applied and natural sciences division and the social sciences and humanities division.

Second-place-finisher and crowd-favorite-award-recipient Lydia Hoffstaetter GRD ’18, a sixth-year neuroscience student who discussed the applications of hibernation, said the competition made her think about her thesis in a new way.

“Whittling everything down and making it understandable to a layperson is quite challenging,” Hoffstaetter said.

Following the presentation, The Citations — the graduate school’s coed acapella group — provided entertainment while judges deliberated for 30 minutes. Members of the audience also voted for their favorite presentations at that time.

Faustin Carter GRD ’15, who attended the event, said his favorite presenters included Getachew and Hoffstaetter as well as José Dario Matínez Milantchi GRD ’20, who spoke about Spanish novels and short stories.

“I was impressed with the ability of the speakers to distill their message,” Carter said, adding that it made him think back to his own time as a graduate student and the challenges of conveying his work to others.

The competition took place the day before “Where do I go from Yale” — a daylong event, hosted by the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Yale Alumni Association’s Careers, Life, and Yale Program.

Le Vi Pham | levi.pham@yale.edu

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu