Victoria Khaghani, Manning Zhang, Pranav Ojha, and William Dahl stand onstage holding their Three Minute Thesis prize certificates.

Photo Credit: Dan Holmes

April 30, 2024

Ayla Cordell | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

The 2024 Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) at Brandeis Graduate School of Arts & Sciences was not Will Dahl’s first rodeo. “It took me two tries,” the Molecular and Cell Biology PhD student said. “On my first attempt last year, I missed a line and stood silent for what felt like ages. To be honest, I was terrified!” This year, Will took home the first place prize for the Sciences of $1,000 and the overall win. He credits his success to careful planning, refinement, and lots of practice. He focused on formatting his talk as a story that would resonate with a wide audience: “Every sentence must be calibrated to communicate, and there is no room for asides. The talk converges from broader impacts to the actual thesis.”

Explaining your research in just three minutes is a tall order, but on April 5, the third annual 3MT Competition, founded by the University of Queensland, saw ten GSAS students meet that very task. Marika McCann, Associate Director of Professional Development at GSAS and member of the 3MT team, alongside Associate Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Director of Professional Development Jon Anjaria; Anahita Zare of MRSEC; and Becky Prigge, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at GSAS, said this about the 2024 competitors: “Our team was very impressed with how hard our students worked and the overall enthusiasm they brought to their talks. The audience learned so much from our students in this short time, including the possibility of early detection of Parkinson’s Disease, the importance of examining circadian rhythms, patterns in Honduran ceramics, and Tamil transfeminine performance in post-war Sri Lanka.”

Under the bright white stage lights and looking out upon an audience of friends, family, members of the Brandeis community, and a panel of five judges, finalists took to the Spingold Theatre stage. While it was certainly nerve-wracking, contestants noted the benefits of presenting in this format.

Manning Zhang, who won first place in the Humanities/Creative Arts/Social Sciences category, said the best moment of the competition was standing on the stage for the final round with rushing adrenaline. Acknowledging that few friends and family know about what she researches in Sociology and Health Policy, she began sharing more with them to understand how different people would react to her research. While this helped her prepare for the competition, it ended up holding deeper meaning for Zhang: “It took me a really long time to pursue my research and say, ‘This is meaningful.’ Getting feedback from people and hearing that they understand what I’m doing is really important to me.”

Victoria Khaghani, a Master’s student in Anthropology who was Runner Up in the Humanities/Creative Arts/Social Sciences category, echoed this sentiment. “You have to push yourself pretty hard to be able to condense your research down. But being able to then present my research to my family and have them say, ‘We finally understand what you’re doing,’ where they can understand the importance of it…that was huge.”

While contestants hoped to teach their audience something about their research, some finished the competition having learned new things about themselves. “I really like speaking in front of people,” Pranav Ojha, a Molecular and Cell Biology PhD student, discovered. “Figuring out what words to say, how to communicate them to inspire care - I enjoyed that process, and I’m coming out of it with different career ideas.” His passion for public speaking was evident - Ojha finished the competition with a total $1,250, after winning both Runner Up in the Sciences and the People’s Choice Award, which is determined through audience vote.

The final round may have showcased three minutes of individual presentation, but 3MT thrives as a collective and collaborative effort. “This is one of the only opportunities GSAS students at Brandeis have to share their research with the overall Brandeis community, outside of their departments,” McCann noted. Zhang (Sociology and Health Policy) even reached out to 2022 winner Emiliano Gutierrez-Popoca (PhD English ‘23), whose talk on Master-Servant Relations in Early Modern Drama led him to the National 3MT competition. Though they come from different disciplines, 3MT provided a platform for shared experience, and Popoca helped Zhang revise her draft for the final round. “I’ve gained a lot of rapport with people I didn’t think I could have rapport with…networking is very precious,” Zhang said. The 3MT community at Brandeis continues to strengthen and grow, and we cannot wait for next year!

Special thanks to 3MT sponsors: Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Mandel Center for the Humanities, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, and the Division of Sciences

This year’s winners include:


First Place - William Dahl (overall winner), Molecular and Cell Biology, Stressed Cells' Secret Weapon for Survival

Runner Up - Pranav Ojha, Molecular and Cell Biology, What Makes our Clock Tick: A Look at Where It All Starts

Humanities/Social Sciences/Creative Arts

First Place - Manning Zhang, Sociology and Health Policy, Move It or Lose It

Runner Up - Victoria Khaghani, Anthropology, The Devil’s in the Details: Neglected Patterns of Honduras

People’s Choice

Pranav Ojha