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Cricket researcher sweeps top 2 awards at 3 Minute Thesis competition

In a night filled with great lines, the opening sentence of Kristin Duffield’s three minute thesis presentation took the cake.

“I am going to explain how the threat of death may actually boost your libido,” said Duffield, a doctoral student in the School of Biological Sciences. And with that, Duffield began a brief, but illuminating, explanation of her research showing that a threat to their survival may cause male crickets to increase their reproduction activities as they age.

Duffield was one of 10 Illinois State graduate students who competed in the second annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition held Thursday night (February 22) at Normal Theater. About 225 students, faculty, staff, and community members packed the historic theater to cheer on the scholars as they attempted to distill hundreds of hours of research into 180 seconds.

Although all of the presentations were smooth summations of complex research and well received, Duffield’s concise account of five years of cricket research stood out to the judges and the crowd. She won first place and the people’s choice award, each of which came with prizes of $1,000. Tharini Viswanath, of the Department of English, placed second and received $750. She presented “When Is a Children’s/Young Adult Novel Feminist Enough.”

The 3MT competition challenged master’s and Ph.D. students to describe their research and its significance to a general audience in three minutes or less. The competitors were allowed to use one static slide, and no additional transitions, animation, video, or props. Presentations were all spoken and excluded songs and theatrical performances.

The competition was judged by a three-member panel: Paul Bloom ’96, vice president for process and chemical research, Archer Daniels Midland Co.; Chemberly Cummings, council member, Town of Normal; and Diane Wolf ’89, ’92, M.S. ’95, Ed.D. ’15, assistant regional superintendent, Regional Office of Education #17. Illinois State’s Graduate School organized the event and co-sponsored it with the Normal Theater and WGLT radio station. WGLT General Manager R.C. McBride served as master of ceremonies.

Graduate School Director Amy Hurd was impressed by the breadth of the research presented. This year’s finalists emerged from competitions held within Illinois State’s academic colleges. Topics included agricultural education, education assessment, and the design of theatrical costumes.

“I think it’s important for students to talk about their research so everyone can understand what they’re doing and see the value of the research,” Hurd said.

By placing first, Duffield qualified for the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools competition in April. Last year’s winner, Department of Psychology master’s student Emilio Lobato, M.S. ’17, advanced to the final round of the association’s competition, which featured 32 contestants from universities across the Midwest. 3MT was developed by the University of Queensland in Australia and has spread to more than 18 countries and 200 universities worldwide.

Duffield said the event made her reflect on her research. “Mostly I talk with other people that are in my field and I am not really having to take a step back and ask, Why does this matter? Why does the general public care about this? This really gave me an opportunity to look at my project a little bit differently and ask those big picture questions about what I’m doing.”

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Kevin Bersett can be reached at