Competitors rapidly focus on unique ways to save lives, resources

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

Competitors rapidly focus on unique ways to save lives, resources

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
During the Graduate School’s fifth annual Three-Minute Thesis Competition, students shared condensed versions of a variety of research projects.

There were novel ways to help alert people in the path of catastrophic floods; evidence-based ideas to support those with mental illness and prevent suicide; as well as a solution to making a commute to work smoother, with fewer road projects to heighten traffic.

And those were just a few of the concepts floated by students Thursday night, when they summed up months or years of research into just 180 seconds at the University of Miami Graduate School’s fifth annual Three-Minute Thesis Competition.

In all, 10 graduate students competed for the title in their timed lectures, which were broadcast virtually for the first time. Two students managed to edge above the others in capturing the attention of the nearly 200 audience members, as well as the judges.

First place went to Marybeth Arcodia, a Ph.D. student in atmospheric sciences, who explained how her research on the interaction of two Pacific atmospheric waves can help forecasters determine months in advance when and where to expect flooding events in the United States. 

“Knowing how Pacific conditions affect U.S. rainfall can give management officials and individuals more time to prepare and evacuate, saving millions of dollars in infrastructure damage and sparing countless lives,” said Arcodia, whose adviser is Ben Kirtman, professor of atmospheric sciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. 

The winners of the 3MT competition
Marybeth Arcodia and Cho-Hee Shrader, first and second place winners of Thursday's Three-Minute Thesis Competition.

Second place and the audience choice award went to Cho-Hee Shrader, a Ph.D. student in prevention science and community health, whose work focuses on how the social network theory of “homophily”—or the fact that friends and significant others often share similar traits—can affect one’s communication and knowledge about pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medicine that can be used to prevent HIV transmission. This is particularly important in Miami, which is now considered the epicenter of the HIV epidemic for the United States, Shrader said. The virus is especially prevalent among minorities, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates showing that 20 percent of Latino gay men and 50 percent of Black gay men will be diagnosed with HIV by age 50, if current trends persist. Shrader wants to disrupt that trend by fostering conversations among Latino and Black gay men to make discussing this medicine, called PrEP, less taboo.

“These conversations—if constructive—can actually destigmatize the virus and save lives,” said Shrader, whose adviser is Mariano Kanamori, assistant professor in the Division of Prevention Science and Community Health at the Miller School of Medicine.

Arcodia and Shrader will hopefully go on to compete in the Council of Florida Graduate Schools Three-Minute Thesis Competition in April, said Tiffany Plantan, director of education for the Graduate School.

Competitors during the 3MT
Competitors of the Three-Minute Thesis held Thursday, Feb. 4.

The eight other student competitors also showcased their research in a creative, accessible way and administrators praised them for committing to the nerve-wracking competition.

“Particularly in this time, where we know that all of us are experiencing different types of hardship and have additional stress, these students really were very courageous and resilient and did a phenomenal job at presenting their dissertation research,” said Willy Prado, dean of the Graduate School and the University’s vice provost of faculty affairs. “These students were able to connect with the audience, and they were able to translate their research to a lay audience very effectively, which is one of the goals of this competition.”

Their projects also highlighted the breadth of research happening across the University, Prado said.

For example, civil engineering Ph.D. candidate Nima Hosseinzadeh is working on more eco-friendly forms of concrete that will also last longer in harsh winters and hopefully curtail the nation’s endless need for road repairs.

School of Architecture master’s student Shannon Newberry is studying how humor can be reflected in structures, particularly inflatable ones. And Jennifer Ann Lamy, another graduate student in architecture, is using the history of racism in U.S. housing and building policies as a backdrop to craft a starter home design that would be more equitable and safe for Black living in Miami today.

Miami Herbert Business School doctoral student Rosy Xu explored how fake news that quickly spreads on social media can impact business revenues. She found that 80 percent of companies listed on the S&P 500 are severely affected by fake news, which can mean a 3 percent loss in stock purchases. Yet, businesses can reduce the damage by disclosing the truth.

“Firms that respond directly to fake news successfully reduce the chance of future ‘taxes’ by almost 90 percent, and those firms that take immediate action in dispelling rumors, limit the damage to their reputations,” she said. “Managers need to address the increasing threats of fake news on social media before they escalate.”

If you missed the Graduate School’s 2021 Three-Minute Thesis Competition, you can watch a full recording of the event on YouTube.