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Three Minute Thesis competition won by English PhD student

Carnegie Mellon University held its fifth annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Championship last Tuesday, April 10, at Kresge Theater. The competition challenges PhD students to orally present their thesis in three minutes in a way that is clear and interesting to a non-expert audience. Prizes of $3,000, $2,000, and $1,000 are awarded to the first, second, and third place winners, decided by a panel of judges, as well as prizes of $500 that go to the People's Choice Award, selected by the live audience, and the Alumni Award.

The 3MT began at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008 and has expanded all over the world in many universities. The competition is open to all doctoral students in any field at Carnegie Mellon. The 2018 3MT group was as diverse as the school, with the eight finalists representing biology, architecture, language, engineering, and English.
Will Penman of the department of English won first place and was voted the People's Choice Award. In second place was civil and environmental engineering student Navid Kazem, followed by Ardon Shorr of the Department of Biological Science in third place.

This year was Penman's second time participating in the 3MT, after competing last year.

"Last year I enjoyed competing, but I was pretty nervous in the final round," Penman said in an interview with The Tartan. "I wanted to come back this year with a more comfortable presentation and a more engaging talk. So, I decided to have fun with it this year and treat it more like a performance."

Penman's thesis is about the relationship between rhetoric and race, using the call-and-response method as a concrete communication structure for enacting inclusive beliefs about race.

"I decided to structure my talk so that the audience wasn't just learning about call-and-response, but actually trying it out," Penman said. "That way people could experience it for themselves."

Many of the theses were interdisciplinary in nature, drawing elements from several different fields. Second-place winner Kazem's thesis integrates his civil and environmental engineering field with mechanical engineering and physics to develop an insulative and conductive rubber, dubbed "thubber." Shorr's thesis discussed how scientists can use astronomy tools and techniques to learn about proteins — looking at proteins the same way we look at stars.

For Penman, the 3MT was an opportunity to hone his presentation skills and practice how to summarize and present his thesis. He also got the chance to learn about the eclectic research subjects of his fellow competitors.

"I was really impressed by the amazing work that Carnegie Mellon students do, and would encourage others to attend the finals next year," said Penman. "Each of the contestants has put in so much time to create a compelling presentation, and you really get a window into the work that people are doing."