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Three Minute Thesis Competition: Past 3MT Competitions

Past CMU Winners

First place winner Piyumi Wijesekara from the Department of Biomedical Engineering

April 1, 2022

CMU Research Takes Center Stage at Three Minute Thesis

By Shannon Riffe

Eight doctoral students explained their years of research and its importance in under three minutes during the finals of Carnegie Mellon University's Three Minute Thesis (3MT), held Wednesday in the College of Fine Arts' Kresge Theatre.

First place went to Piyumi Wijesekara from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, second place went to Suzy Li, who is studying architecture in the School of Fine Arts, and third place went to Emma Benjaminson of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The People's Choice Award — selected by the audience in the theater — went to Mohammad Ayaz Masud, who is studying electrical and computer engineering. Materials science & engineering student Amaranth Karra was selected as the Alumni Choice Award winner by online votes from alumni watching the livestream.

The event, which returned for its seventh year at Carnegie Mellon, after a two-year break due to the pandemic, started at the University of Queensland in 2008 and has been adopted by hundreds of institutions. Keith Webster, the Helen and Henry Posner, Jr. Dean of the University Libraries, who brought the competition to CMU, served as host of Wednesday’ finals.

Wijesekara, a doctoral student in the College of Engineering whose research involves engineering mini-lung tissue to study lung biology, lung diseases and targeted therapies attributes her success to the timeliness of her topic. Having an accurate lung model is critical to respond swiftly to public health crises like COVID and makes us better prepared for another pandemic.

“Since I’m doing research on a topic that is relevant at this time, that probably made me stand out to the audience and judges,” Wijesekara said. “We are still in a pandemic and are in dire need of inventing or engineering models to come up with solutions for this pandemic. Since everyone has gone through this tough time, maybe they can relate to this problem more.”

Masud, also from the College of Engineering, is working on a breakthrough memory device that will enable high density storage with minimum energy expenditure. His lab mate encouraged him to compete in 3MT, which he found to be a fun and valuable challenge. After the experience, he encourages other grad students to participate in 3MT.

“It was fun to talk about my research and to get the People’s Choice award feels good, but the biggest reason to participate in 3MT is that you can spend a lot of time thinking about your research not to present to a committee or to professors but to present to a general audience,” said Masud. “That allows you to discover the most important parts of your research and makes it a really enjoyable process.”

Like first-place winner Wijesekara, who overcame her fear of public speaking by practicing her presentation in front of audiences of friends and colleagues, second-place winner Li participated in 3MT to become more comfortable with public speaking, which she says is a valuable skill for PhD students of any discipline.

Li, who presented a talk on her research into creating smarter urban surfaces to bring benefits to climate change, human health and social equity, had previously participated in the 2020 3MT preliminary rounds, which were prematurely cut short due to the pandemic. She did not win her preliminary round that year and in the two years since, she continued to refine her presentation and sought help from the Student Academic Success Center.

In the end, it’s all worth it if she’s able to get her message out to a broader audience.

“Urban surfaces – roofs, streets and parking lots – are so common, they are everywhere,” Li said. “This topic is relevant because we are now facing urban heat and flooding problems everyday. I hope the data points I shared in the presentation catch people’s attention and make them realize that what a big problem we’re facing. It will be good if my presentation makes people start to think about this topic.”


Watch the 2022 Three Minute Thesis Championship on YouTube.


2022 Finalists

  • Gaurav Balakrishnan, College of Engineering
  • Emma Benjaminson, College of Engineering
  • Aditi Chaudhary, Language Technologies Institute
  • Sathvik Divi, College of Engineering
  • Amaranth Karra, College of Engineering
  • Zekun "Suzy" Li, School of Architecture
  • Mohammad Ayaz Masud, College of Engineering
  • Piyumi Wijesekara, College of Engineering

The 2021 3MT competition was canceled due to COVID-19. 

The 2020 3MT competition was canceled due to COVID-19. 

The 2019 Three Minute Thesis Championship was held at Kresge Theatre on Tuesday, March 26.


2019 Winners

  • First Place Winner: Bhuwan Dhingra, Language Technologies Institute, School of Computer Science
  • Second Place and People's Choice Winner: Rachel Niu, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Third Place Winner: Dipanjan Saha, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Alumni Choice Winner: Sahil Rastogi, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering


2019 Finalists

  • Lola Ben-Alon, School of Architecture, College of Fine Arts
  • Bhuwan Dhingra, Language Technologies Institute, School of Computer Sciencet
  • Anna Kalmykov, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Rachel Niu, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Sahil Rastogi, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Dipanjan Saha, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Charles Sharkey, Department of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Prince Singh, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering


Watch the 2019 finalists' presentations on YouTube

View the photo album on CMU Libraries Facebook

Read more about the 2019 finalists 

April 11, 2018

Practice Makes Perfect for Three Minute Thesis Winners

Penman takes first place and People's Choice Award

By Shannon Riffe

Doctoral students took the stage at Kresge Auditorium to describe their research and its significance in three minutes or less during the finals of Carnegie Mellon University's Three Minute Thesis competition.

First place and the People's Choice Award — selected by the live audience — went to Will Penman from the Department of English. Second place went to Navid Kazem, who is studying civil and environmental engineering, and third place went to Ardon Shorr from the Department of Biological SciencesBiomedical engineering student Sahil Rastogi was selected as the Alumni Choice Award winner by alumni watching the Facebook feed.

The event, in its fifth year at Carnegie Mellon, started at the University of Queensland in 2008 and has been adopted by hundreds of institutions in more than 57 countries. University Libraries Dean Keith Webster, who brought the competition to CMU, served as host of Tuesday's finals.

The first-, second-, and third-place winners were all repeat participants, who had competed in at least one other Three Minute Thesis competition.

For first-place winner Penman, whose presentation invited the audience to participate in a call and response exercise, this was his second attempt.

"For me, this year it was about having a sense of fun attached," Penman said. "A lot of times, academic research can be kind of dry, so I really wanted to have this sense of being called into something. I'm calling the audience into a call-and-response and that mirrors what I'm doing in my dissertation to think about race and being called into a deeper interaction."

Shorr, a doctoral student in the Mellon College of Science who was a finalist in CMU's first Three Minute Thesis competition, also was participating in his second championship.

"My first Three Minute Thesis talk was about why so many astronauts return from space with health problems," Shorr said. "This time, as my work has evolved, I'm talking about how we can learn about proteins in the body using astronomy software. It's a story of building tools by learning from other fields."

As a co-founder of the student group Public Communication for Researchers, which helps graduate students explain their work and why it matters, and a former presenter at TEDxCMU, Shorr approached the finals with experience in public speaking.

First-time Three Minute competitor Carla Viegas, a student in the School of Computer Science's Language Technologies Institute, recognizes the value of presentation skills.

"The reason I wanted to compete was to step outside of my comfort zone," said Viegas, who presented her research on stuttering. "Even if you have great research, but don't communicate it properly, not even peers will be able to build upon your work. So I wanted to challenge myself and make my research topic understandable for everyone. Preparing for the preliminary round made me feel uncomfortable, but participating showed me what can be achieved."

Kazem said he wanted the audience to understand the interdisciplinary nature of his work, which features elements of mechanical engineering and physics. His experience in the Three Minute Thesis preliminary rounds in 2016 and 2017 prepared him to take home a prize this year.

"I made it so much simpler," Kazem said. "If you look at my presentation last year, it was too complicated. I learned that there is not enough time to go in depth on your topic. Keep it as simple as possible."

2018 Finalists
Lola Ben-Alon, School of Architecture
Mats Forssell, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Navid Kazem, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Will Penman, Department of English
Sahil Rastogi, Biomedical Engineering
Brian Sergi, Engineering and Public Policy
Ardon Shorr, Department of Biological Sciences
Carla Viegas, Language Technologies Institute


Watch the Three Minute Thesis finalists presentations on YouTube.



                                                      First Place Winner, Diane Nelson                                                      2017 Three Minute Thesis Championship competitors and judges

Ten Ph.D. students representing four CMU schools and colleges competed in McConomy Auditorium for the 2017 Three Minute Thesis Championship. For the first time, the competition was streamed live online, where alumni viewers had the chance to vote for the new Alumni Award. Thanks to all of the competitors and judges and congratulations to the winners!

  • 1st Place Winner: Diane Nelson, Biomedical Engineering – “Drug Delivery to the Lungs using Perfluorocarbon Emulsions”
  • 2nd Place Winner & People’s Choice Award: Surya Aggarwal, Biological Sciences – “Intercepting Bacterial Communication to Limit Antibiotic Resistance”
  • 3rd Place Winner: Ania Jaroszewicz, Social & Decision Science – “How the Psychology of Poverty Affects Behavior and Financial Outcomes”
  • Alumni Choice Award: Sudipto Mandal, Materials Science & Engineering – “Improving performance of aerospace materials using Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME).”


3MT 2017 Finalists: 

Michael Craig, Engineering and Public Policy, College of Engineering

Pallavi Baljekar, Language Technologies Institute, School of Computer Science

Jesse Thornburg, Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering

Ania Jaroszewicz, Social and Design Sciences, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Will Penman, English, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Jooli Han, Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering

Sudipto Mandal, Materials Science and Engineering

Diane Nelson, Biomedical Engineering

Emily Simon, Biological Sciences

Surya Aggarwal, Biological Sciences


Watch the 2017 finalists  

Read the CMU home page story about the 2017 Three Minute Thesis competition.


(Left) President Subra Suresh with 1st Place and People's Choice Award Winner Pratiti Mandal. (Right) President Suresh and University Libraries Dean Keith Webster with all 2016 3MT @ CMU Finalists. 


Congratulations to Pratiti Mandal (1st place and People's Choice), Juliann Reineke and Shinjini Kundu (2nd place tie), and Amit Datta (3rd place), as well as the rest of our 2016 3MT Championship students. Ten students competed in this year's Finals. Who would have gotten your vote? 

Finalists who participated in the 2016 Championship:

Shinjini Kundu, Biomedical Engineering: Predicting future osteoarthritis using MRI: the untold story of cartilage
Vinitha Ganesan, Biological Sciences: A New method to help the discovery of diagnostic biomarkers for autoimmune diseases
Juliann Reineke, English: Three sheets to the wind: the Jolly Jack Tar and British Masculinity in the 18th Century
Blue Martin, Biomedical Engineering: Development and modeling of multi-scale continuous high gradient magnetophoretic separator for malaria-infected red blood cells
Jonathan Kush, Tepper School of Business: Ties than bind and ties that tear: the influence of network centralization and density on shared social identity and performance
Giuseppe Vinci, Statistics: High dimensional graphical models for neural connectivities
Daniel Shiwarski, Biological Sciences: Unlocking the DOR to the surface: Regulated surface delivery of the delta-Opioid receptor
Amy Stetten, Physics: Inducing surface flows at fluid interfaces through aerosolization of lipid dispersions
Pratiti Mandal, Mechanical Engineering: Investigation and mitigation of degradation of fuel cells
Amit Datta, Electrical and Computer Engineering: Discovering personal data use on the web


Watch all of our 2016 Finalists  

Check out the CMU home page story on the 2016 Three Minute Thesis Competition.

Congratulations! Annie Arnold, Michael Craig, Sam Ventura & Vincent DeGeorge came out on top (1st, 2nd, 3rd & People's Choice) at CMU's 2015 3MT Championship. Eleven finalists participated. Who would get your vote?  

Finalists who participated in the 2015 Championship:

Milad Memarzadeh, Civil & Environmental Engineering: Probabilistic learning and planning framework for optimal management of systems under uncertain environments

Michael Craig, Engineering & Public Policy: Keeping the lights on: Power systems, water and climate change

Vincent DeGeorge, Materials Science & Engineering: Tomorrow's electricity: Stadium or lawn seating?

Sam Ventura, Statistics: Solving the identity crisis

George Lederman, Civil & Environmental Engineering: Good vibrations: How to protect our infrastructure

Madhumitha Ramesh, Biological Sciences: How do cells assemble the ribosome nanomachines?

Amit Datta, Electrical & Computer Engineering: Transparency in online targeting

Annie Arnold, Chemistry: Modified graphene: Biodegradable bone implants

Gus Xia, Machine Learning: Music, mind and machine: Expressive collaborative music performance via machine learning

Lily Morse, Organizational Behavior & Theory: Exposing fraud vulnerabilities in client-auditor relationships

Garrett Stack, English: Damming the Romantics


Watch all the 2015 finalists! 

Check out the CMU home page story: Three Minute Thesis.

Four Ph.D. candidates were crowned “Academic Idols” at Carnegie Mellon’s 2014 Three Minute Thesis Championship round on Feb. 18., 2014.

The first-place winner was David Rollinson (Robotics Institute, SCS), who presented his thesis Snake Robots in the Wild!

Second place went to Suchitra Ramachandran (Biological Sciences, MCS), who presented The Brain as a Statistician.

Third place went to Patrick Foley (Statistics, DC) and his thesis Statistics and the Human Connectome.

In an audience vote, Ramachandran and Arun Shrivats (Biomedical Engineering, CIT) with the thesis siRNA Therapeutics for Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva tied for the People’s Choice Award.

Eleven Ph.D. candidates made it to the final round out of 140 initial registrants. The competition, brought to CMU by Dean of Libraries Keith Webster, challenged the doctoral students to present their thesis in three minutes or less in language understandable to a general audience.


Check out the CMU home page story: Academic Idol.

Watch all the 2014 finalists