One scholar, one slide, three minutes: The Graduate School’s Three-Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) is coming!

Courtesy Nevada Silver & Blue Magazine

In celebration of the research and scholarship of graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno, The GraduateSchool established the annual 3MT@Nevadacompetition in 2014. In this exciting, fast-paced event, graduate student-scholars are challenged to present — in just three minutes and using only a single presentation slide — the results of their dissertation or thesis research. In an initial round of competition, University faculty evaluate the presentations to determine who will be was chosen for the final competition where students compete for prizes of up to $1,000.

At the start of each spring semester, the call goes out for brave graduate students to submit their entries. 3MT is the merging of science, art, and literary device — the challenge of telling an engaging story without sacrificing one iota of truth. Allegory, irony, humor, onomatopoeia, tongue twisters, it's fair game in a battle of wits and tongues.

In 2016, 1st place winner and then-doctoral student Robert del Carlo ’14 (neuroscience and biochemistry & molecular biology), ’20 Ph.D. (cellular molecular pharmacology)hooked his audience with a tale of toxic newts in which he noted that a half gram of tetrodotoxin could take out an entire basketball team, or not to scare anyone, the entire front row of his listening audience.

Del Carlo competed and won again in 2018, this time with a flawlessly delivered tongue twister, “How much sodium could a sodium channel, channel if the sodium channel could channel sodium?

Of course, del Carlo’s presentation wasn’t all charm and cleverness, as he had an important message to convey in his talk entitled, “Love | Evol: Charting evolution’s wandering walk.” As del Carlo pointed out, “By studying the path that evolution takes and showing that not all paths are possible, we can see that evolution has limitations and is often predictable. This is powerful information because many traits are at their adaptive limits — evolutionary dead ends holding the species back. For our sodium channels, there are only so many ‘spelling errors’ you can make before they are nonfunctional. If we extend this to all living species, we'll find that many are as adapted as they're ever going to be to their environmental challenges.”

Learning how to communicate in a concise and compelling manner is crucial to the success of all academics who go on to pursue competitive funding and publishing opportunities — skills that have been particularly difficult to practice during a pandemic. The 3MT competition has experienced cancellations and public health restrictions that necessitated alternative formats for the competition, including livestreamed finals and presenters wearing face coverings.

Current University postdoctoral fellow Robert del Carlo catching a snake for an experiment.Current University postdoctoral fellow Robert del Carlo ’14, ’20 Ph.D. catching a snake for an experiment.

“Learning how to communicate in a concise and compelling manner is crucial to the success of all academics...”

The Graduate School is delighted to again host this live annual event in April and broadcast this outstanding graduate student research with the University community and beyond. With participation from a diverse group of graduate students and guest judges ranging from University Foundation Professors to distinguished Reno community members, 3MT@Nevada is an event that shouldn’t be missed.