Clinical psychology Ph.D. student wins first place in regional Three-Minute Thesis

Contact: Meghan Behymer
Tabitha DiBacco poses with her first place award

Tabitha DiBacco, center, holds 1st place certificate of recognition for regional Three-Minute Thesis competition. Also pictured at left, is second-place winner, Desire Ortiz Torres, University of Illinois Chicago; and at right, People’s Choice winner, Mehreen Iftikhar, Kansas State University

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—With a single Powerpoint slide and three minutes, one Western Michigan University doctoral candidate made her research stand out. 

Tabitha DiBacco, a clinical psychology Ph.D. candidate, is the first Western student to win the regional Three Minute Thesis (3MT), in which graduate students have three minutes and one slide to summarize their research for a general audience. 

DiBacco's presentation was based on her dissertation project, which contends that using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) interventions can be a helpful strategy in times of crisis and that quick interventions for healthcare professionals can be effective.  

Rising to the top at WMU’s 3MT Competition 

To ascend to the regional 3MT Competition, DiBacco first had to compete in WMU’s 3MT hosted by the Graduate Student Association. 

Competing against nine others, DiBacco won first place at the regional competition by distilling her year-long dissertation into three minutes of engaging and educational content in front of six judges. 

“As students, we’re really used to being taught to in-depth defend our work to experts in our field. What we don’t have as much practice with is very succinctly communicating with people who aren’t in our area of expertise. And that’s really what the Three-Minute Thesis is about,” DiBacco says of her experience in the competition. 

Even after securing the regional spot, DiBacco continued to refine her presentation by working with School of Communication faculty to hone the message that “got to the severity and meaning of the project.” 

One finding that stood out to DiBacco was that of the rising suicidality during the pandemic. Specifically, 20% of health care workers who participated in her study expressed thoughts of suicide not long before beginning to take part in the study. But by the end of the study, there were none. DiBacco noted that “while we can’t say that is all due to the (ACT) intervention, it’s a pretty salient change.” 

“I think (suicide) is something that we don’t talk about enough in general, but we particularly don't talk about it in regard to providers because we tend to see this very distinct role in those who are helping and those who need help,” DiBacco says.  

Making a mark in Milwaukee 

With WMU’s 3MT experience under her belt and a refined presentation in hand, DiBacco traveled to Milwaukee for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools’ regional competition in April.  

She was placed in one of four groups of 10 students who each competed in front of a panel of judges. The top two competitors from each group competed in front of the entire audience.  

Competitors are judged on a variety of factors, including how entertaining and clear the topic is, how well competitors dominate the stage and how engaged the audience is, among other things. 

In the end, DiBacco’s presentation and research stood out as the best to the judges. 

“The biggest challenge (for competitors) is to very quickly tell a story and really grab the audience’s attention with their findings,” says Dr. Christine Byrd-Jacobs, dean of the Graduate College. “I knew Tabitha did a fabulous job against pretty hefty competition.” 

DiBacco will be representing the Midwest region at the Council of Graduate School’s annual meeting in December 2022. 

This story is part of the College of Arts and Sciences Annual Magazine—view the 2022 Magazine online.