University graduate students are participating in the Three Minute Thesis event, in which they have to explain their dissertation in three minutes.


It’s not often students get the chance to make $300, let alone in three minutes.

However, eight graduate students will have the chance to condense countless hours of research into a three-minute speech.

The event, called Three Minute Thesis, will feature graduate students from various university departments, including history and physics. During the little time they have, they will be judged on how clearly they can get their ideas across.

“(It’s difficult) to boil down something they’ve worked on for semesters or even years into three minutes and to make it something that everyone can understand,” Sara Helfrich, who is organizing the event, said. “The time limit makes things interesting.”

Most of the students participating anticipate that their dissertations average 150 to 300 pages.

The winner of the event will be the one who can make his or her research understandable to the average person without watering down the intricacies of the paper. The winner will receive $300, second place will receive $200 and third will receive $100. The audience also has a chance to vote for their favorite participant, who will also receive $100.

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Helfrich stressed how difficult it is to summarize such a vast amount of research into such a short time span.

“People can go on and on about their research, but to pull out the salient points, that’s a challenge,” Helfrich said. “It’s one of the biggest things they're focusing on, and they should be excited to share it.”

Most of the participants have a strategy already planned out.

“I try to think about things that people know about and try to piece together a story by starting general then getting more specific,” Sean McGraw, a sixth-year graduate student studying physics, said. “You have to take leaps without giving information. That's the challenge.”

McGraw’s dissertation focuses on the evolution of black holes in distant galaxies and how those galaxies evolve around them.

Some students said they are confident in their ability to summarize their research.

“It’s just about picking and choosing — like an elevator speech,” Anne Allman, a graduate student in the history department, said. ”It helps that I talk about it with my friends.”

Allman said three minutes of talk time boils down to roughly a page and a quarter worth of text.

“It's not about dumbing it down, it's about being clear for people who aren’t experts,” Helfrich said. “The judges want to see if they can hold the audience's attention.”

It is the first time the university will put on the event, which was developed at the University in Queensland in Australia. Helfrich said OU decided to host it because some thought it would help the graduate students convey their dissertations to people outside their major, which they will have to do after graduation.

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“We wanted to have more programs for grad students that could help them with their life after they’ve completed their degree,” Helfrich said. “I think they're at the point where this is all they're doing, and it's kind of become all encompassing.”

Helfrich said she is hopeful it would be the first installation for many years to come.