FARGO – You've spent years doing the research. You have 180 seconds to tell us about it. Go.
Those were the instructions for 34 North Dakota State University graduate students who competed in the Three Minute Thesis competition Wednesday.
This is the second year NDSU has hosted the event, which is held internationally and challenges students to simplify and abbreviate their research, "so that really anybody could understand it," said Brandy Randall, associate dean of the graduate school.
That's a necessary skill, Randall said, because more than half of the doctoral graduates in the country end up in non-academic fields, such as business and industry.
"Generally, they're not going to be working with people who have the same academic background they do, and so they need to be able to explain clearly what their work is about," she said. "You may have only one or two minutes to make your case for why you want to do what you do, why it matters."
This year's contenders spoke swiftly about a new method for delivering pancreatic cancer treatments, a reason for the invasion of Kentucky bluegrass in North Dakota and how to discuss finances with a significant other, among other topics.
Manpreet Bains, a Ph.D. student in molecular pathogenesis, won the top honor for his succinct talk on the relationship between neural proteins and the microbiome – in other words, whether the nervous system can affect the body's bacteria.
Bains has little experience in public speaking, but he addressed the crowd in Century Theater with the enthusiasm of Bill Nye.
"The microbiome is the compilation of all of the bacteria that are present on or inside your body," he said. "They're located in the hair on your head, in your ears, in your nose, in your mouth, in your intestines, even our reproductive organs."
Afterward, the 26-year-old said he enjoys summarizing research in straightforward terms.
"I think it's important to get the public involved, so that the public understands what's going on and how this research can apply to them," he said.
A college thesis can run 75 to 250 pages, so distilling the material is not an easy task. Bains estimates it took him a couple of weeks to write three minutes of oratory.
Delton Steele, regional president of U.S. Bank and one of five judges for the championship round, believes the effort was worthwhile.
"Communication is critical in a lot of job functions these days," Steele said. "Having that ability to be comfortable in a public setting like that, I think, is just a real plus."