Michael is “Three Minute Thesis” champ
By: Yasmeen Ebada
Second year master’s student Michelle Michael won first place in the Ohio University-wide Three Minute Thesis Competition and was voted the audience’s favorite competitor, the People’s Choice Master’s Student during Spring of 2019. First place winners receive $300 and the People’s Choice winners receive $100.
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Associate Professor and Graduate Director Dr. Aimee Edmondson says that Michael crushed the competition.
“Not only was she the audience’s favorite, but she was also the judges’ favorite, beating out doctoral students. She is the full package. She is a great teacher and she is such a promising scholar. I’m delighted that of all places, she decided to stay with us for her terminal degree,” Edmondson says.
Michael starts her doctoral studies at Scripps in Fall semester 2019.
Michael’s thesis, “Framing Terrorism and its effect on Islamophobic Attitude: An Experiment,” examines islamophobia and why this rhetoric came into existence in the first place. Michael says Muslims are portrayed in the media as people who want control over oil and resources, or war in areas that are populated with Muslims and terrorism. These are the three topics under which Muslims are discussed in popular media.
“My research looks at how terrorism stories are framed, how it has an impact on the American audience with their perceptions about Muslims and, if it does, can we do something about it. I’m trying to see whether the media plays a role in cultivating Islamophobic messages through the way they cover terrorism,” Michael says.
That’s the problem, and secondly, if it’s true, can the media do something about it? It’s a very open-ended question; it can go both ways and she does not know what to expect, she says.
Michael had no intention of entering the competition, let alone win it. When she applied, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“I was not planning on it or anything, and I kept sort of re-thinking why on earth I submitted the application in the first place, but since I was in it, I was not going to back out,” she says. “I’m a verbal processor and I know my research because I’ve been working on it for a while.”
Michael prepared only two days before the competition. She just started practicing in front of a mirror. She went from point A to point B without thinking about it or how she wanted it to sound.
“I wanted a strong beginning and a strong ending because I think that is important. I thought a little bit more about how exactly I wanted to start. I never really wrote my speech down because I usually don’t. It was just me repeating my speech several times. Once I knew I had a flow of what I wanted to say, I then timed myself,” she says.
While practicing, she initially went over three minutes, and then she had to ponder what was important and what was not. She took some points off and then she repeated her speech multiple times. Her roommates also heard it several times.
Nerves always hit Michael right before she goes on stage, but this nervous energy helps her.
She wasn’t sure what to expect in the qualifying round, and she was the last contestant. She got to hear everyone else present first, which made her even more nervous.
“All of those people who went before me presented wonderful research, so when It was my turn, it was even more nerve wracking,” she says.
Michael says being able to talk about her research to a lay person in three minutes, the elevator pitch of your research, is important.
“I think I learned how to explain my research to a lay person quickly, which I think is important because it irritates me that the academia world tends to be a bubble,” Michael says. “If all we are doing is finding out all those things and it never helps the world, if all of our hard work and research is not producing fruit, it won’t matter. I think it’s important to be able to communicate what we are doing to those outside the academic bubble, so people can actually benefit from it.”
When she first started working on her thesis, Michael knew she wanted to conduct an experiment. Her thesis committee chair, Dr. Jatin Srivastava, is an expert in conducting experiments, and has been instrumental in her research, she says. She says that most social sciences research tends to be primarily survey based. She wanted to do something different. She wanted to do an experiment.
“I’ve known him since my first semester here at Ohio University, he knows me, and he knows what I am capable of. He is able to guide me, and I’m very grateful for him because I’m not a very organized person,” she says. “He helps me think about the big picture, he has been able to break things down and he has been able to say OK this is our timeline we will go work on this.”
Her other committee members are Dr. Hugh Martin and Dr. Victoria LaPoe.
“I’m really thankful for both of them because they both bring different strengths to the team. Dr. Martin is a quantitative person, and I like quantity and numbers. He is able to help with how exactly I should think about the analysis. Dr. LaPoe has been very resourceful in finalizing my instruments,” she says. “When I had to put together my survey, she wanted me to be more exhaustive and more thorough. She has been crucial in that aspect of my research.”
Srivastava says that Michael is a very good student, she is a great communicator and has a good understanding of the theoretical aspect of her thesis.
“The questions she cares about are very human questions. She has a real passion for the questions she is asking, and I really like that about her,” he says. “She has been working on this project for some time now. I think it’s a good project and it adds meaning to society, but more importantly, it means something to her, and I think that’s a very noble thing to do.”
Srivastava says winning the award is a remarkable achievement. Talking about your thesis in three minutes is a tough thing to do. It means you just have to come to the core of it, he says.
“I think for her that comes relatively easily because she has been thinking about this for such a long time. She talks about terrorism and conflicts in different parts of the world. She talks about groups and how they are seen. I think that enables her to talk about it in a way so that people who are not familiar with the topic, will understand it,” he says. “Those people see her point of view, they share her motivations for asking those questions, they understand where she is coming from and they feel some degree of excitement about where she is going.”