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3 Minute Thesis

The 3MT is an internationally known competition where graduate students present a compelling oration on their thesis or dissertation research, consolidating their ideas and research discoveries so they can be presented concisely (in 3 minutes or less) to a

non-specialist audience using only one static slide and a memorized script.

I competed in the 2023 3MT held by Texas State University as 1 of 12 university finalists

presenting on my thesis research that focuses on children's cartography, visually and statistically analyzing

the content and design of hundreds of children's hand drawn mental maps in efforts to explore 

how their unique perspective can help us improve, inspire, and understand mapping in a new light.


See below for some images from the event, the presentation slide and script I used, and a video of the presentation.


From the printing press to our pockets, maps have been tools of navigation, exploration, and education for centuries. But now, children may revolutionize mapping for all! How? With their unique perspective! Listen to this quote.

Our greatest period of geographical exploration is that found in each of us – in our childhood. All children have an urge to explore the landscape around them, to learn about it, to give order to it, and to invest it with meaning.”

These photos that you see here, are of me, as a young child, doing just this: exploring the world, and clearly, enjoying it. As I have grown up, I have found a deep love for maps and mapmaking as a way to make sense of the world and visually curate the beauty I find in it. Every child, though, freely sees the world in their own unique way, through young and imaginative eyes filled with innate creativity. This is the perspective that my research is born from, and what will be the next force driving the advancement of maps and mapmaking. Let me tell you how.

In the research world of mapmakers, it has been common to utilize maps to understand how children’s minds work so we can design better maps for them, but!, what we lack is how children can help US improve mapping, for all ages! Through this fresh and untapped perspective, this study will not only enable more engaging & user-friendly mapping practices, but provide a more holistic approach to map design and a deeper understanding of children’s psychology, with implications for their geographic education.


So, in order to understand what mapping is according to children, I have visually and statistically analyzed hundreds of hand-drawn mental maps, a few of which you can see here, made by children ages 6 to 14 who all journeyed through the same field trip.

What do they show us? Three things.

1. That maps are not just drawings. Although they often lack traditional map elements such as a legend key or scale bar, they clearly tell a successful, spatial story with intentional design.

2. They are inherently complex. They represent both the natural and the built environment, as well as shared and personal perceptions.

And 3. They are forms of expression! Children go over the top and have fun, as we can see in their wide design variations.

These results come from analyzing only about 300 maps, when we have 3,000 in total. So, I am only just getting started! I plan to dive deeper with my analysis, looking for age-related variations in map content and design, and children’s expressions of social, emotional, and environmental relationships.  

So, I invite you to join me in staying young at heart through children’s mapping as I continue to explore how children can improve and inspire spatial innovation, and how their unique perspective can help us understand mapping in a new light.  

Click the link below to access the video recording from the

TXST University 3MT Finals. 


Despite my experience in presenting this research in the settings of geography conferences and in the classroom to my cartography students, the 3MT competition gave me the opportunity to think about my research in an entirely new light, intelligently cutting-down my 60 page thesis to a 1-page, 400-word script to present it enthusiastically and concisely to a non-specialist audience. What a challenge!


But, beyond the skills and time it took to make the scientific side of this research "chewable" to an audience of people outside of my discipline, the hardest part for me was working through the nerves and mental challenges of presenting a carefully curated and memorized script in front of cameras and a judging panel. Check out the original recording of this presentation here to see the first draft of this presentation. 

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