Ball State University biology graduate student Kirsten Vacura of Bloomington, Minnesota can explain her thesis on lakes and invasive species in 3 minutes.

That ability won her the $1,000 first place prize at the university’s first Three Minute Thesis competition.

The Three Minute Thesis contest, held at more than 600 universities worldwide, challenges students to effectively explain their thesis research to a lay audience in just 180 seconds using only one static PowerPoint slide.

Vacura’s thesis focused on how lakes in the U.S. and Canada are connected, both through natural hydrology and by anglers, to determine which lakes are the most vulnerable to the spread of aquatic invasive species. As winner, she represented Ball State at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools on March 20-22 in St. Louis.

“I think I explained my project in a way that was easy to understand,” Vacura said, “and I tried to throw in a few puns and jokes to help connect with the audience. I also think the results of my project are significant, and I tried to convey my excitement about the research I’m doing. Winning the contest felt a little surreal. I had practiced for weeks. It was strange for it to be over, but I’m excited that my hard work paid off.”

Vacura worked closely with Assistant Professor of Fisheries Paul Venturelli on the project.

“My adviser has been a huge help through the entire process,” Vacura said. “He helps me problem solve when my code isn’t working. We meet regularly to figure out our next steps and what’s missing from the project, and he’s supportive of me when I do things like present at conferences. I would love to be a professor — it means a lot more school once I’m done at Ball State. But I’m passionate about teaching others about fisheries and natural resources, and I am excited to continue doing research.”

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