Brain Food: Three Minute Research Presentations

Mar 27, 2014

Fans of the TV show Shark Tank know the premise is that contestants have just a few minutes to persuade investors to fund their business idea. A similar contest is playing out among graduate students at Northern Arizona University. Three Minute Research Presentations is a program that teaches students to quickly and effectively "pitch" complicated research projects to potential funders.

Ramona Mellott, Dean of NAU's Graduate College
Credit Bonnie Stevens/KNAU

Ramona Mellott is the Dean of NAU's Graduate College and oversees the program. She says, "Not many people have hours to sit and listen to years and years of research. So, can you take all this work that you're doing and say it in three minutes? This project is not only helping them communicate, it's giving them the tools to communicate their research in an effective manner and in a timely manner."

Mellott says the challenge is for students to shrink down years of research. They must decode disciplinary jargon for a panel of judges and a general audience that may not have any knowledge at all of what the students are studying. Their Three Minute Research Presentations could be in engineering, linguistics, biology, or anything at all.

"They need to convince funders, legislators, people who are funding their research and help them understand what they're doing," Mellott says. "One project that really caught my attention was why are some people more effective in learning foreign languages as opposed to other people? We all know people who just seem to get it, and other people struggle for years and years."

That idea, if pitched well, could earn the presenter $1,000 at next month's competition. This semester's Three Minute Research Presentations are open to the public. For more information, visit