Real-deal research: Graduate students show presentation prowess at MSU's Three Minute Thesis competition

Peter Ryan (far left), Kaylee Wells, Michael Nattrass and Tate Fonville

STARKVILLE, Miss.—How can months or years of research be explained in three minutes or less? Some of Mississippi State’s best and brightest graduate students showed just how it’s done during the university’s recent Three Minute Thesis competition.

Sponsored by the MSU Graduate School, the annual competition challenged master’s and doctoral students to provide a compelling, 180-second presentation of their research and its significance in language appropriate for a non-specialist audience. Students were only allowed to use a single static PowerPoint slide during their presentation.

Project categories included arts and humanities; life and biomedical sciences and engineering; physical, mathematical, computational sciences and engineering; and social and behavioral sciences.

Peter Ryan, associate provost for academic affairs and interim dean of MSU’s Graduate School, said the Three Minute Thesis competition is a “healthy exercise for graduate students in learning to succinctly explain information and communicate with others as they move forward in their careers.”

“I am amazed at the level of competency and enthusiasm and the degree of sophistication of the research that’s being undertaken here at Mississippi State University,” Ryan said. “These students have done their subjects, advisers and Mississippi State proud.”

Fifty-three students representing 22 different departments across campus participated in this year’s competition, with nine selected for the final round. From those, judges selected a Grand Champion and Grand Champion Runner-Up. The audience also voted on a People’s Choice Award recipient.

Michael P. Nattrass of Starkville, a plant and soil sciences/agronomy doctoral student, was named this year’s Grand Champion and recipient of a $1,000 prize. With a research talk titled “Phytoremediation: Plants Improving Water Quality,” Nattrass will represent MSU on Feb. 14-16, 2019, in the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools Three Minute Thesis Regional Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee. He graduated cum laude with an MSU bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences and a master’s degree in plant and soil sciences with a concentration in agronomy.

Tate R. Fonville, an engineering/mechanical engineering doctoral student from Sherwood, Arkansas, is this year’s Grand Champion Runner-Up. His presentation, “A Modular Framework for Robust Helmets,” earned him a $750 prize. Fonville, who also holds an MSU bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, said he’s been working on helmet research for nearly two years. The task of condensing 4,000 words of findings into a three-minute presentation was quite an experience, he explained.

“My adviser is always challenging us to give presentations about our research, but this was the first time I’ve had to synthesize information into just three minutes,” Fonville said.

The People’s Choice Award was presented to Kaylee K. Wells of Bradenton, Florida, for “I Find Your Lack of Restoration Disturbing,” a research project focusing on the value of restoring “Star Wars” actor James Earl Jones’s birth house. The agriculture/agricultural economics master’s student took home a $500 prize for her efforts. She is a summa cum laude MSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in environmental economics and management.

Finalists received $250 awards. They include:

—Keshav Sharma of Starkville, a biological sciences doctoral student whose presentation was titled “Genetic engineering of Glycine max (Soybean) to study its Defence role against Heterodera glycine’s (Soybean Cyst Nematode).” He also holds an MSU master’s degree in biological sciences.

—Nathan Barclay of Brandon, an applied psychology/clinical psychology doctoral student also pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. An MSU psychology bachelor’s graduate, Barclay discussed “How Historic Aggression Predicts Current Aggression: Could it be pain tolerance?”

—Naqeebullah Naqeebullah of Starkville, a plant and soil sciences/agronomy doctoral student who spoke about how “Stress affects performance (Plants/Animals/Humans).”

—Bradley M. “Brad” Richardson of Starkville, a forest resources doctoral student concentrating in wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture. His talk was titled “Spatial and Temporal Genotype Profile of Atypical Aeromonas in Catfish.”  

—Leah K. Horstemeyer of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a biomedical engineering master’s student who provided an “Evaluation of A Virus-Based Therapeutic for Osteomyelitis.”

—Malavika Jinka Ramamurthy of Starkville, an applied anthropology master’s student who gave a presentation titled “Development Defined: Internally Displaced Persons and Government in Southern India.”

MSU’s Graduate School provides students with scholarly and professional development opportunities to develop methods of independent and systematic investigation. Learn more at

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Story submission: Sasha Steinberg