Chemical engineering graduate student wins first place at Three Minute Thesis contest

March 27, 2024

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on Penn State News. 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. Aditya Sapre, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering, won first place in the final round of Penn State’s inaugural Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, held on March 23 at the Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center. He won a $1,000 cash prize and will advance to represent Penn State at the regional Three Minute Thesis competition at the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools.   

“It’s very, very exciting,” Sapre said. “I have been practicing this for a long time and it’s all with the support of my group members and my professor who helped me trim the pitch in a particular way to convey all the points of our research and stay in three minutes.”  

Two other Penn State graduate students were honored as award recipients in the final round of the contest. 

“We have some extremely talented students,” said Levon Esters, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School following the event's presentations. “It really makes me feel proud to be dean of the Graduate School at Penn State and know I’m going to come to work every day and be in the midst of talented students like yourselves. You all are going to do great things for years to come. A lot of the research we learned about today is going to change lives in so many impactful ways.”   

Auja Bywater, a doctoral student in food, science and technology, was awarded the $500 second-place prize. Paul DiStefano, a doctoral student in cognitive psychology, earned $500 and the People’s Choice Award, sponsored by the Graduate and Professional Student Association. Sapre and Bywater were selected by a panel of invited judges, and DiStefano’s award was chosen via in-person and online voting from the audience after the competition ended.   

The judges for the final round included Penn State alumnus Bimal Balakrishnan, professor and associate dean for research, College of Arts and Architecture, Mississippi State University; Kathy Drager, associate dean for research and graduate education, College of Health and Human Development, and professor of communication sciences and disorders; Esther Obonyo, associate professor of architectural engineering and director of Penn State’s Global Building Network; and Priyanka Paul, Penn State doctoral student in human development and family studies.   

The award recipients were three of 11 finalists that competed on March 23. That group came from a group of 60 students from 42 graduate programs who submitted videos as part of the first round of the competition earlier this year.  

Sapre’s presentation was titled “High Throughput and Cost-Effective Ways of Protein Identification,” and focused on one of the foremost challenges in drug discovery, pinpointing the specific target protein that can bind with the correct drug. Bywater’s presentation was titled “Improving Food Safety: Exploring Bacterial Diversity in Hydroponic Farming,” and shared her study that carried out a longitudinal assessment of microbial load of nutrient solution in different hydroponic farming systems. DiStefano’s presentation, titled “Is a Hotdog a Sandwich?: Measuring Overinclusive Thinking and Creativity,” provided an overview of a novel measure he developed that is designed to assess overinclusive thinking.   

The Three Minute Thesis is an academic research communication competition developed by the University of Queensland, Australia. Through the competition, graduate and professional students honed their academic and research presentation skills and their ability to effectively explain their research to a general audience. Each competitor had three minutes to speak and could use only one presentation slide.   

The Graduate School hosted the first University-wide 3MT competition in 2024 and plans to host another competition in the 2024-25 academic year. More information will be available on the Graduate School’s website in the fall 2024 semester.   

The event was live streamed and recorded, and community can view the competition on the Graduate School’s YouTube channel.

The Graduate School: 2024 Three Minute Thesis Competition. Credit: The Graduate School at Penn State


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