First time master’s students competing at the UCF 3MT Competition: L to R: Nicholas Pareis, Edi Mucka, Halley Spencer (Runner-Up), Kayla Cayasso (People’s Choice Winner), Paul Amoruso, Trevor Colaneri (First Place Winner).

Master’s Students Compete for the First Time in UCF’s Three-Minute Thesis Competition

By: Mila Chial on

From cutting-edge engineering feats to sociological and historical exploration, UCF graduate students presented their wide-ranging research endeavors in under three minutes at the Three-Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) Monday.

Graduate students from various disciplines compete for prizes with a 180-second elevator pitch that covers a wide range of research topics. Hosted by the College of Graduate Studies, the affair is the ultimate culmination of interdisciplinary ideas and challenges students to express their work using only one slide as a prompt.

First developed in 2008 by the University of Queensland in Australia, 3MT competitions are now held in over 900 institutions across more than 85 countries worldwide. For the first time this year, the UCF 3MT featured a master’s-level addition to the doctoral event, occurring on the same day. Ten doctoral students and six master’s students participated.

“As far as promoting diversity of thought, I think including master’s students is one large step in the right direction,” says creative writing MFA student Kayla Cayasso, who won the people’s choice award for the master’s category. “To be able to stand before those who are not English literature-focused or art-focused and see them engage with my work on a critical level, I think it is very exciting!”

Tianka Pharaoh, a counselor education Ph.D. student, was also excited to participate in the event. After learning of the competition during her first semester as a doctoral student, it had become her goal to share her research and raise awareness about the need for effective support systems for students.

“I watched several videos of UCF students from previous competitions, and I was inspired to see students sharing their research in such a unique way,” she says.

A group of doctoral students presenting at the Three Minute Thesis Competition.
Doctoral Finalists at the UCF 3MT Competition: from L to R: Joseph Vaccaro, Ratna Okhai, Sambadi Majumder (First Place Winner), Shahzad Mahdavib (People’s Choice Award Winner), Emeline Ward, Khalilah Cains, Tianka Pharaoh, Shahrior Pervaz, Itunu Ilesanmi (Runner-Up), not pictured, Udit Kumar.

Participants were judged on their ability to effectively convey the importance of their research in an engaging way to a non-specialist audience. Judges for the master’s event included Kimberly Schneider, assistant vice provost for Student Success and Well-Being; Cameron Ford, associate professor and director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership; and John Weishampel, senior associate dean of the College of Graduate Studies. The doctoral event was judged by Sherry Rankins-Roberson, Department of Writing and Rhetoric chair; Jennifer McKinley, program director for Florida High Tech Corridor; and Michael Aldarondo-Jeffries, director of Academic Advancement Programs.

History master’s student Trevor Colaneri ’19 won the $1,000 first-place prize in the master’s competition and applied sociology master’s student Halley Spencer ’21 was awarded second place. Creative writing MFA student Kayla Cayasso received the People’s Choice award. For the doctoral competition, first place was awarded to integrative and conservation biology Ph.D. student Sambadi Majumder for his research on sunflowers, and public affairs Ph.D. student Itunu Ilesanmi was runner-up. Electrical engineering doctoral student Shahrzad Mahdavi ’21MS earned the People’s Choice award.

The event brings students together and serves as an opportunity to inform the broader UCF community of the remarkable research at UCF.

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