Three Minute Thesis Competition

180 Seconds to Present Your Thesis

An 80,000-word thesis would take nine hours to present in full. The Three Minute Thesis Competition challenges students to present their work clearly and concisely. 

The History of 3MT

The first Three Minute Thesis Competition was held at the University of Queensland in 2008. The idea spread quickly, and universities around the world now host events. Graduate students compete to be the best presenter of their research and its significance, in terms anyone can understand and in only three minutes.


On February 4, 2015, the NDSU Graduate School hosted its first Three Minute Thesis competition. Twenty-five graduate students participated in five preliminary rounds; the winner of each round received $250 and went on to compete in the final round, with the grand champion winning $1,000.

Since then, we've had nearly 60 graduate students showcase their research for staff, faculty, fellow students, and community leaders. 

Information for Participants

If you’re interested in competing in the Three Minute Thesis Competition, you can find the information you need to participate below.

Participants in the university-wide competition register with the Graduate School during fall semester. Eligibility is limited to current NDSU graduate students (either master's or doctoral) who are registered for spring semester, as well as December graduates. All participants must have approval from their adviser.

NDSU Competition Rules

  • Competitors must be able to attend the entire Three Minute Thesis competition event on February 21, 2019.
  • Presentations are to begin with students introducing themselves and identifying their graduate program.
  • Presentations will be recorded and may be shared on the NDSU website and through other media platforms.
  • All contestants must sign a Participant Release Form to agree to the release of information and recording.

General Competition Rules

  • A single static PowerPoint slide is permitted (no slide transitions, animations, or movement of any description). The slide is to be presented from the beginning of the oration.
  • No additional electronic media (i.e. sound or video files) are permitted.
  • No additional props (i.e. costumes, musical instruments, laboratory equipment) are permitted.
  • Presentations are limited to three minutes maximum; competitors exceeding three minutes are disqualified automatically.
  • Presentations are to be delivered via spoken word (i.e. no poems, raps, or songs).
  • Presentations are to commence from the stage.
  • Presentations are considered to have commenced when a presenter starts their presentation through movement or speech.
  • The decision of the adjudicating panel is final.

Judges will evaluate competitors on two general categories:

  • Content and comprehension
  • Communication and engagement

Scoring System

  • Each criterion is equally weighted and has an emphasis on audience. 
  • For each of the two categories, judges will assign a score of 0 to 10. 
  • These scores will be added together, so the total maximum score is 20. 
  • Any competitor who exceeds the three-minute limit is disqualified automatically. 
  • The winner in each heat will be the student whose presentation was three minutes or less and who received the highest total combined judges’ score for that heat.

Content and Comprehension

  • Did the presentation provide an understanding of the background to the research question being addressed, as well as its significance?
  • Did the presentation clearly describe the key results of the research, including conclusions and outcomes?
  • Did the presentation follow a clear and logical sequence?
  • Were the thesis topic, key results, research significance, and research outcomes communicated in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience?
  • Did the speaker avoid scientific jargon, explain terminology, and provide adequate background information to illustrate points?
  • Did the presenter spend adequate time on each element of their presentation? Or did they either rush or elaborate for too long on certain aspects of the presentation?

Communication and Engagement

  • Did the oration make the audience want to know more?
  • Was the presenter careful not to trivialize or generalize their research?
  • Did the presenter convey enthusiasm for their research?
  • Did the presenter capture and maintain their audience’s attention?
  • Did the presenter have sufficient stage presence, eye contact, and vocal range? Did they maintain a steady pace and have a confident stance?
  • Did the PowerPoint slide enhance the presentation? Was it clear, legible, and concise?
Judging Selection

Judges are carefully chosen and assigned to each room in order to present possible conflicts of interest between judges and competitors.

Each preliminary heat will have three judges:

  • An NDSU faculty member
  • An NDSU graduate student
  • A prominent community figure

The championship round will have six judges:

  • An NDSU faculty member or administrator
  • An NDSU faculty member or administrator
  • An NDSU graduate student
  • A prominent community figure
  • A prominent community figure
  • A prominent community figure
Participant Release Form

As stated in the NDSU competition rules:

  • Presentations will be recorded and may be shared on the NDSU website and through other media platforms.
  • All contestants must sign a Participant Release Form to agree to the release of information and recording.

General Student News Release Form

Competitors are also asked to complete a General Student News Release Form, so that information regarding their participation in the Three Minute Thesis Competition and other involvement at NDSU may be released to the Fargo Forum and their hometown newspaper.

  • Competitors are required to send their PowerPoint slide to the Graduate School prior to the competition. We suggest the use of a picture or graphic, rather than excessive text, as the information and meaning should be very clear to a general audience.
  • Your PowerPoint slide will be preloaded on the computer in the room hosting your heat, and the Graduate School will determine the order of presentations.
  • You may be fitted with a lavalier (clip-on, wireless, hands-free) microphone for both the preliminary and championship round presentations. We suggest dressing in a manner that will allow the microphone to be clipped to the top of your shirt and slipped into a pocket or attached to a waistband or the like.
  • Both the preliminary and championship rounds may be video-recorded.
  • For the preliminary rounds, the audience and competitors will stay in the room while the judges are tabulating the scores. The audience will have the opportunity to ask questions about the talks during this time. Answers to these questions will not affect the score, but it offers an excellent opportunity for you to interact with the audience. The winner for each room will be announced when the judges are finished determining the scores.
  • For the championship round, the judges will leave the room to determine the scores. While they are doing so, the competitors will talk about why they chose to come to NDSU and what they hope to do with their degree. The audience will be substantially larger for the championship round, so the session will not be opened up for audience questions.
  • You are welcome to view other presentations in heats in which you are not participating.
  • We encourage you to arrive at your designated presentation room 10 minutes prior to the beginning of the heat.
  • You are expected to dress in professional attire and remember that you are representing NDSU at this event. Many visitors from around the campus, the community, and the state will be in attendance. This competition provides an opportunity to show them the value of graduate education.
  • Members of the media will also be present; if you are approached, please take the time to talk with them.