Katelyn Milliman Shines at Three-Minute Thesis Competition

Feb 16, 2016

“I study stars because stars are the lightbulbs of the Universe.”

These few simple words capture the essence of why Katelyn Milliman studies how oddball stars form in open cluster environments. But more importantly, these were the final words of Milliman’s presentation during the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition in December—from which she walked away with second place.

The 3MT competition—which challenges researchers to describe their work to a general audience using only one static slide—is meant to force participants to step back from the technicalities of their work and communicate their research in layman’s terms. Though the competition was originally founded by the University of Queensland in Australia, it has since moved to locations around the globe—landing in Madison just two years ago.

For her thesis, Milliman set out to understand why some “oddball stars” in open clusters do not follow theoretically predicted paths. To do this, she first gathered membership and binary information from the WIYN open cluster study. She then combined this information with new data from a WIYN project using atmospheric abundance tracers to identify companion stars—a project which Milliman spearheaded.

With this newly combined dataset, Milliman finally had the information she needed to discover that many of her curious oddball stars were actually linked to nearby companion stars. Furthermore, she found that some of the oddballs were absorbing material from their companions—which is why Milliman chose to refer to them as “vampire stars” during her 3MT presentation.

The 3MT competition is not only a stage upon which graduating Ph.D. students can discuss their outstanding research accomplishments, but it is also a forum where outgoing graduates get experience communicating the larger motivations driving their research. And in the increasingly competitive STEM fields, this ability to communicate scientific research to a general audience is priceless—whether one is interviewing for a job, competing for funding, or simply communicating their work to a friend or relative.

Most importantly, the 3MT competition gave Milliman a reason to distance herself from her research for a bit and examine it from a different perspective. As Milliman said,

“Being in your final year, trying to finish applying for jobs, your trying to get the details of your science worked out. And then to be forced to take a step back and think, ‘What’s cool about my research? What’s the big deal about my research?’ It really reminds you about what’s exciting about it all.”

You can watch Katelyn Milliman's award-winning 3MT presentation below.

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