Asian Literature, Religion, and Culture Ph.D. Candidate Wins Three Minute Thesis Competition
“So, this is a coin from 12th century Sri Lanka. And, like many coins, it’s inscribed with the name of the monarch who commissioned it,” began Bruno Shirley, a doctoral candidate in Asian literature, religion, and culture at the seventh annual Cornell University Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.
Alongside seven other finalists, Shirley presented his dissertation research in just three minutes to a panel of judges and a virtual audience from across campus and around the world. Presentations were judged by how clearly and compellingly students summarized their research to a general audience, using only one static slide.
His presentation, “Constructing Buddhist kingship in medieval Sri Lanka,” earned him first place and $1,500. Second place and $1,000 was awarded to physics doctoral candidate Vaibhav Sharma for his presentation, “What happens when atoms colder than outer space are spun around?”
After nearly 100 audience members cast their ballots, votes were tallied and the People’s Choice Award and $250 were presented to plant pathology and plant-microbe biology doctoral candidate Juliana González-Tobón for her presentation, “Can bacteria smell their food?”
For Shirley, whose fieldwork plans were disrupted by the pandemic, entering the 3MT enabled him to reengage with his dissertation research.
“These three-minute talks are more than just elevator pitches; the process helped me to really hone-in on what’s most important in my dissertation topic,” he said. “It’s so easy to lose sight of the woods for the trees when we’re deep into dissertation-land, and this was a valuable opportunity to step back and re-orient.”
Sharma, while enthusiastic about his research, struggled to articulate it clearly and compellingly to friends and family in the past. Through the 3MT, he learned valuable skills about concisely summarizing his complex research.
“Before 3MT, I didn’t believe I could talk about my research in just three minutes. The 3MT preparation stage was an eye-opener for me, and I realized the value of each and every sentence. There was no benefit to adding a single ‘filler’ or useless word. I learned how to cut down on verbosity and explain even difficult concepts in brief and easy to understand language. It will help me in the long run if I write shorter and better papers,” he said. “And now if anyone asks me about my research, I can just give them the link to my 3MT video.”
González-Tobón wanted to enter the 3MT since she began her doctoral program and appreciated that this year’s virtual platform allowed for a larger audience.
“It was a great opportunity to invite friends and family from around the world. As an international student, being able to invite everyone felt fantastic and was so heart-warming!” she said. “Also, since the finalists were both international and domestic and from several different research areas, it was amazing to see how diverse this community is and how different our expertise areas are.”
The 3MT competition was first held in 2008 at the University of Queensland and has since been adopted by over 900 universities in over 85 countries. 3MT challenges research degree students to present a compelling story on their dissertation or thesis and its significance in just three minutes, in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.
Cornell’s Graduate School first hosted a 3MT competition in 2015 and the event has grown steadily since that time. Cornell’s winner will go on to compete in the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools 3MT competition in late April.
“We are so proud of each and every one of our finalists,” said Jan Allen, associate dean for academic and student affairs. “They not only gave excellent presentations, but learned important skills about research communication in the process that will benefit them as they graduate and move into new roles.”
Cornell’s seventh 3MT final round competition was held on March 22, 2022, at 4:00 p.m. on Zoom.
Spring 2022 3MT Finalists
First Place: Bruno Shirley, Asian literature, religion, and culture doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “Constructing Buddhist kingship in medieval Sri Lanka”
Special Committee Chair: Anne M. Blackburn
Area of Research: Buddhist political thought
Biography: Originally from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Bruno is an intellectual historian of medieval South Asian Buddhism, de- and re-constructing ideas about political thought, gender, and devotion. He is interested in theories and methods that challenge our assumption both about “the past” and about possible futures.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: The view out over the lake from up in Olin Library.
Second Place: Vaibhav Sharma, physics doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “What happens when atoms colder than outer space are spun around?”
Special Committee Chair: Erich Mueller
Area of Research: Ultra-cold atoms and quantum information
Biography: Vaibhav Sharma is a Ph.D. student in theoretical physics. His research focuses on studying atoms cooled down to almost absolute zero temperatures. Vaibhav does calculations to understand and explain their quantum mechanical behavior. He grew up in Delhi, India. Outside physics, he enjoys playing tennis, traveling to stunning landscapes, and learning to speak Spanish.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: The open culture of respect and fostering a free flow of ideas.
People’s Choice: Juliana González-Tobón, plant pathology and plant-microbe biology doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “Can bacteria smell their food?”
Special Committee Chair: Melanie Filiatrault
Area of Research: Bacterial plant pathogens, host-pathogen molecular interactions, RNA regulation, chemotaxis
Biography: Juliana, a Ph.D. candidate at PPPMB, studies bacteria that infect potatoes and how they sense the environment. She is originally from Colombia, a writing/presenting tutor at ELSO, and has created a community in social media to communicate science to the general public, mainly in Spanish, and a support network with tips and challenges about academia.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: At Cornell, I feel like I can take on any project I can think of. So many great minds and a supportive community around me every day!
Sebastian Diaz Angel, history doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “Nuclear excavations to dam the Amazon, clear the jungles, and prevent Communism (1964-1973)”
Special Committee Chair: Raymond B. Craib
Area of Research: Latin American history, historical geography, environmental history, map studies, history of technology, Cold War
Biography: Sebastian has a B.A. in political science, a B.A. in history, and an M.A. in geography. His dissertation, “Weaponizing the Wilds. Counterinsurgency mappings and the geographical engineering of development in Cold War Latin America,” traces intersecting histories of technology, environment, and politics in the Cold War.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: Its diversity.
Fernanda Fontenele, mechanical engineering doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “The tension of a crush”
Special Committee Chair: Nikolaos Bouklas
Area of Research: Mechanics of composite materials
Biography: Fernanda Fontenele joined the field of mechanical and aerospace engineering as a Ph.D. student in 2018. She is studying how composite materials, such as tendons, fail under conditions of overuse and repetitive loading. The ultimate goal of her research is to develop treatment methods and preventive strategies for diseases such as tendinopathy.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: Adherence to the motto, “any person…any study.”
Shagun Gupta, computational biology doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “Sparking joy with LAVA!”
Special Committee Chair: Haiyuan Yu
Area of Research: Mass spectrometry-based proteomics
Biography: Shagun Gupta is a Ph.D. candidate in computational biology. She is working on finding the best ways to accurately quantify signal from noisy datasets produced with mass spectrometers and using structure-based approaches to shed light on the role of proteins in our bodies. In her free time, she can be found reading sci-fi and taking hikes in Ithaca.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: The clock tower and its holiday-specific versions!
Andrew Legan, neurobiology and behavior doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “Chemical communication in wasps”
Special Committee Chair: Michael Sheehan
Area of Research: Insect molecular ecology and evolution
Biography: Andrew moved from Nashville, TN to Ithaca in 2016. He is curious about animal behavior and evolution and has focused on studying paper wasps during his graduate studies. In his free time, he enjoys playing soccer and hiking with his dog.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: My favorite thing about Cornell is the people. I am lucky to have met so many different curious and kind people during my time in Ithaca!
Yanle Lu, civil and environmental engineering doctoral candidate
Presentation Title: “How long can we trust a model prediction?”
Special Committee Chair: Qi Li
Area of Research: Fluid dynamics, tracer dispersion, and heat transfer in urban environments
Biography: Yanle Lu is a Ph.D. candidate in the City-Climate-People lab in civil and environmental engineering. With a focus on urban climate, her research is about the fluid dynamics, tracer dispersion, and heat transfer in urban environments. Her current research topics are the predictability of dispersion in the surface layer over urban environments and the representation of urban land surface in high resolution numerical models.
Favorite Thing About Cornell: Beautiful nature!
2022 Final Round 3MT Competition
The Three Minute Thesis final competition for 2022 was held virtually on Tuesday, March 22 from 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET. Eight finalists competed for first and second prize in the judging and people’s choice award winner.
Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is an annual competition for doctoral students to develop and showcase their research communication skills, sponsored by the Cornell Graduate School.
2022 Preliminary round registration was open to all current doctoral candidates with research results to present. Preliminary round virtual competitions were held live from March 1-3.
Zoom Information sessions were held on the following dates and times.
- Tuesday, February 1 at 4:00 p.m.
- Wednesday, February 2 at 12:00 p.m.
- Friday, February 11 at 4:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, February 15 at 5:00 p.m.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about the Cornell Three Minute Thesis competition.