Pitch Your Thesis in Three Minutes? Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) and Everyday Applications

I’m not sure if this is a popular competition at my home institution or others, but York University is hosting its Three Minutes Thesis (3MT®) competition in this term. The basic idea is to present your research to the general public in three minutes. It originally started at the University of Queensland in Australia, and here is their brief description of 3MT®:

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland. The exercise develops academic, presentation, and research communication skills and supports the development of research students’ capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes in a language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience.

And here is their introductory video about this competition:

One interesting criterion of this competition is that it allows you to use only one single, static PowerPoint slide without any other animation, video, or sound. Considering the idea that the presenter will need to condense their research idea into the duration of three minutes, the limitation of one single slide may make sense. Allowing the presenters to use more slides or other media may be a disadvantage to those who are not tech savvy enough to use software other than PowerPoint.

Going through the finalists quickly, I have had the impression that they include more science students, but I may be wrong. Anyway, here are some winners of 3MT® at various universities:

“Nanocantilevers: A New Tool for Medical Diagnostics” by Jennifer Campbell (Engineering Physics) at Queen’s University

“Prostate Cancer – ‘Probing’ for a Solution” by Amanda Pearce at University of Queensland


“Brain Waves That Predict the Future”
by Tim Paris at University of Western Sydney

After watching these videos, I felt that the 3MT® is an academic version of TED Talks: presenters share their ideas to the general public in order to show that their ideas matter. If 3MT® finds a way to work with TED, I think that the participants of the 3MT® will have much larger audiences to share their great research ideas.

– How Can We Apply the 3MT® to Everyday (Academic) Life?

The 3MT® itself is an interesting competition and worth participating and attending, but I thinks that its framework is useful to apply in various aspects of everyday academic life. Here are three aspects to which I think I would apply this 3MT® approach:

1. Grant and Scholarship Proposal Writing
As graduate students, universities expect us to apply for grants and scholarships unless we are already receiving funding beyond the minimum amount of funding from our school. The grants and scholarships with generous financial backing often have committees whose members have diverse backgrounds and do not necessarily share the same research field or interest as you. In this case, the 3MT® mentality to share your research with a general audience will help us break down complicated research ideas into more understandable chunks of information.

Reading out funding proposals will be also useful to identify awkward wording, phrases, and sentence structure. Pretending that you are presenting your proposal at a 3MT® competition, you will develop a presenter mindset for your proposals and should be able to revise them more easily.

2. Daily Planning
Start your morning by taking three minutes to talk to yourself or someone else about what you are planning to achieve in that day. If you already know what you are going to do on that day, three minutes will pass very quickly; if you have a vague idea of your plans, three minutes will feel much longer than they are.

You can also end your day by taking three minutes to go over what you did. Hearing what you did yourself may be awkward at the beginning but will become an efficient way to understand not only the progress that you have made for your various projects but also the condition of your mind as well!

3. Research Idea Brainstorming
If you have a clear vision and idea for your research, telling your classmates and supervisors about it is a piece of cake, and you will not likely have any difficulty in sharing it with your family members and friends as well. If you are not such a lucky person, you may need to identity a main question for your research and refine the framework of such a question until you can share your idea briefly, or in three minutes by adopting the 3MT®.

Find anyone who is willing to share three minutes with you, and talk about your research idea to the person in these three minutes. After you have shared your idea, ask that person if s/he understands the main point or question in your research. If you are not ready for this step, you can instead talk about the scope of your research to yourself in three minutes and ask yourself if it was clear enough to you. If not, it is even more confusing for other people!

Whether you are eventually going to participate in the 3MT®, the mentality of 3MT® will definitely help you work productively and achieve more in your research!

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