On April 29, a dozen seniors competed in the third annual Three Minute Thesis Competition, a contest open to all members of the senior class that awards cash prizes for the students who can most effectively explain their senior projects to non-specialists in three minutes or less.

Hamilton is one of only a few undergraduate institutions in the U.S. that sponsors the competition. But with the College’s emphasis on effective oral communication, the participants demonstrated their enhanced ability to summarize their extensive research with clarity, enthusiasm and creativity, in one case using the college experience at Hamilton as an analogy to explain a senior project’s complex chemical reactions.

The presentations covered a wide variety of topics, from physics to feminist activism, but they all had an underlying commonality: each thesis directly connected to important issues facing the world today, such as alternative treatments for arthritis, factors that enable political volunteerism, effects of immigration on Sweden’s economy and shifting identity politics in cinema.

The top finishers showed a deep understand of and passion for their subjects. Hamilton is doing a great job sending its students out into the world with the skills they need to communicate.

Despite the competition and significant cash prizes at stake, the participants, in classic Hamilton fashion, displayed a deep sense of camaraderie; they shared advice for calming pre-presentation jitters and even gestured to a competitor about to speak that he should tuck in his shirt.

In the end, Hayley Goodrich won the competition with her thesis, “Overcome with Awe: Meaning-maintenance in the Face of Profound Aesthetic Experience,” followed by Meg Riley in second place with, “Feminist Backlash as a Function of Moral and Status Quo Threats.” Ben Schafer earned third place, presenting his thesis, “Construction of a Parallel Transport Machine for the Measurement of Topographic Properties.”

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First-time judge Dr. Ken Novak explained that the Oral Communication Center, which sponsored the event, provided a numerical scale to grade each speaker on the various aspects of content and presentation to foster objectivity. Even so, “The students were all knowledgeable and well prepared, making this quite a challenge.” He continued, “The top finishers showed a deep understand of and passion for their subjects. Hamilton is doing a great job sending its students out into the world with the skills they need to communicate.”

oral communication center

The Oral Communication Center helps students and faculty reach Hamilton’s high standard for effective oral communication. The center provides students with one-on-one peer tutoring and group consultations. It also offers customized support for courses, workshops and seminars.

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This year’s competition featured a new People’s Choice Award that allowed audience members to vote for their favorite presenter. After all competitors spoke and before the official judges tallied their scores, voting from the audience echoed the judges’ perspectives, resulting in a tie between the first- and second-place winners, Goodrich and Riley.

Goodrich’s presentation expertly blended art and science as she spoke for three minutes about how human beings make meaning in the world. “I think the thing that I wanted the audience to take away from my talk was just an appreciation of all that the human mind can do,” she explained. “I mean, how cool is it that we walk around this Earth making meaning out of whatever we encounter, and, even more incredible, that we have the capacity to appreciate and revel in all that is beautiful and striking around us?”

Like many other participants, Goodrich entered the competition to exercise her skills in public speaking and share her research with a larger audience than her thesis group and department. In pursuit of this goal, all the competitors succeeded.  

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