Carnegie Mellon University
April 01, 2019

Getting Back to Fundamentals at Three Minute Thesis Finals

Language Technology Institute's Bhuwan Dhingra takes first place prize

By Shannon Riffe

Shannon Riffe
  • University Libraries
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Eight doctoral students explained their years of research and its importance in under three minutes during the finals of Carnegie Mellon University's Three Minute Thesis (3MT), held Tuesday in the College of Fine Arts' Kresge Theatre.

Watch all eight finalists for the 2019 Three Minute Thesis Competition each present their graduate research in three minutes or less.

First place went to Bhuwan Dhingra from the Language Technologies Institute. Second place and the People's Choice Award — selected by the audience in the theater — went to Rachel Niu, who is studying biomedical engineering and third place went to Dipanjan Saha from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Biomedical engineering student Sahil Rastogi was selected as the Alumni Choice Award winner by online votes from alumni watching the Facebook feed.

The event, in its sixth year at Carnegie Mellon, started at the University of Queensland in 2008 and has been adopted by hundreds of institutions. University Libraries Dean Keith Webster, who brought the competition to CMU, served as host of Tuesday's finals.

Rastogi, a doctoral student in the College of Engineering, whose research involves the development of nano-bioelectronics platforms to investigate the electrical activity of brain and heart tissues, competed in the championship for the second year in a row. He also won the Alumni Choice Award last year.

"The first time I did 3MT because my friends wanted me to, but I ended up loving the experience and immediately planned to come back the following year," Rastogi said. "I always tell professors and advisors to encourage their students to participate. Our head of department was very supportive and three people from our department made it to the finals!"

Niu, who is Sahil's classmate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering, also presented on brain research. In addition to her two awards, she walked away from her 3MT experience with practice in areas that reach beyond public speaking.

"In preparing for this event, I developed a lot of skills — from speechwriting to public presentations, and even what to wear for a presentation," Niu said. "Going forward, I can use what I've learned here for interviews, business pitches and dissertations."

First place winner Dhingra, a student in the School of Computer Science's Language Technologies Institute, is working on building artificial intelligence models that can read and understand natural language text. In addition to wanting the audience to appreciate how complicated human languages are, and how remarkable humans' ability to read them is, Dhingra wanted to make them laugh. A joke about the presence of the words "Nigerian prince" in an email signaling that it could be a SPAM message got a giggle from the audience.

With stripped down presentations that only made use of a single slide, Dhingra and the other presenters focused on connecting with the audience — with either an interactive element or humor — and presenting a basic summary of their work.

"As researchers we get lost in the details but it's good to step back and take a look at the bigger picture of how our work fits in the world," Dhingra said. "Explaining to a lay audience can bring us back to the fundamental issues our research is trying to achieve and this competition helps us do that."

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