Susie McGann, Brittany Bruner and Timothy Hall – the three winners of the 2017 BYU Humanities Three Minute Thesis competition – talk about their research and experience presenting.
PROVO, Utah (March 9, 2017)—In February, graduate students from the College of Humanities stood before a panel of judges, a single slide behind them, and explained their thesis – background research and all – to an audience unfamiliar with their field and their topic. And they each did it in only three minutes.
From the six contestants that participated in the Humanities’ Three Minute Thesis competition, Susie McGann, Brittany Bruner and Timothy Hall were chosen as winners, with Hall selected to advance to the university level in March and compete against students from colleges across campus.
Susie McGann, a first year T.E.S.O.L. master’s student, got involved at the encouragement of her professor. Having traveled around the world teaching English, her focus is on helping non-native English speakers succeed in an English-speaking workplace. However, her time as a volunteer in El Salvador taught her that it takes more than fluency in English to be effective.
“At the time, I had little knowledge of English business communications and found it difficult if not impossible to help these individuals,” she said. “For my thesis,” McGann continued, “I will evaluate and address the needs of non-native English speakers in MCOM 320 courses. These courses teach business writing and speaking skills.” McGann hopes to better understand the challenges those learning English for business face and come up with solutions to some of those problems.
Brittany Bruner was introduced to the Three Minute Thesis when she gave her first-year writing students a similar assignment at the end of the semester. Deciding to try her hand at the real thing, Bruner, an English master’s student, signed up to compete. “English was perfect for me because I was able to read various great works, analyze them and connect them to many different schools of thought,” Bruner explained.
It was a trauma theory class that piqued her interest and gave rise to Bruner’s thesis. She examines how Stevenson uses and challenges the concept of empathy in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “I argue in my thesis that empathy is most powerful when it is used as a method for critique for both victims and perpetrators. I wanted to challenge the victim/perpetrator and empathy/hatred binaries, and since [this book] blurs binaries, it was a good text to pair with this challenge.”
Timothy Hall, a linguistics graduate student, signed up to compete in the Three Minute Thesis competition after seeing a department email calling for students to participate. After a preliminary round against students in his department he moved on to the College of Humanities’ competition, where he won first place. “I’m studying second language acquisition, how people learn other languages, specifically in study abroad contexts,” Hall said. Some research from students studying abroad in the Middle East suggests that language acquisition is better determined by the strength of relationships made with locals than the time each day spent speaking the foreign language.
Hall said, “[With] a friend, you talk about your lives, your pasts, your futures, your hopes, your dreams, you talk about all sorts of things. It stretches you a lot more.”
For his thesis, Hall plans to see if the same findings from the study in the Middle East will hold true for a study abroad in China. “This is important,” Hall explained, “because Chinese social culture is very different from the West and the Middle East. In Chinese, social culture it takes a long time to become an insider – a friend.”
Hall plans to spend the semester in Nanjing, China, with a study abroad group from BYU, gathering his data from surveys and interviews with the students in the program about how many people they’ve met and the types of relationships they’ve formed.
Because Hall hasn’t yet completed his research, he found the Three Minute Thesis to be helpful in narrowing down his objectives. “One of the best things about the 3MT was that it helped me define my research better,” he commented. “When I needed to boil it down to that short of time with one slide it helped me in the planning stages of my research.”
McGann agreed. “It was challenging and intimidating to speak in front of a crowd (especially judges), but I appreciate the opportunity to practice and hopefully improve [my] presenting skills.”
However helpful the three-minute time constraint was in focusing theses, it also presented some challenges. Bruner admitted, “Preparing for the competition was difficult because I had to distill my lengthy argument down to three minutes. I asked my thesis chair, Jamie Horrocks, and another of my professors, Brian Jackson, to review it. And then I practiced for hours.”
Hall added, “The planning process – this isn’t something you can wing. In three minutes, if you [hesitate] over one or two words, it really shows. It took hours of practicing and refining to get down to my three minutes.”
But all the practicing paid off, especially for Hall. “At the university level,” he said, “the competition was incredible. The presenters were very skilled, very prepared.” In addition to the valuable research and presenting experience, Hall walked away with something else, too – “I got a nice gift bag,” he laughed.
—Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’18)
Olivia covers events for the Center of Language Studies in the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in international development.
Photo via Carnegie Mellon University