‘Sum up your thesis in three minutes’ competition

Clear, engaging and jargon-free: years of research explained in 180 seconds

July 4, 2013

Research into reducing errors in number-entry processes in healthcare might not seem likely to grab the headlines, but it has won Frank Soboczenski first place in the UK’s first national Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

The third-year PhD student from the University of York was no doubt being humble when he attributed his success to the straightforward nature of his research. “We all make errors, so I’m lucky to have a topic that is so simple,” he told Times Higher Education.

In front of an audience of about 140 at Leeds University Union on 25 June, Mr Soboczenski saw off 14 competitors from six universities, who all had three minutes to give an “elevator pitch” about their research to an intelligent but non-specialist audience.

Presentation topics ranged from particle physics to education policy. Other than the earlier rounds of the competition, Mr Soboczenski said that he had never before had to explain his research to the public. “It’s a fantastic way to quickly tell a huge amount about your work,” he said.

The 3MT competition was developed by the University of Queensland in 2008. LUU took the initiative to organise a national event for the UK, bringing together a growing number of institutional-level competitions around the country.

Josh Smith, the union’s education officer, said research into the experience of postgraduates showed that students felt “there were not enough opportunities to share their research, so we thought the 3MT was perfect”.

It is hoped that the competition will become an annual event, with each one hosted by the current title holder’s institution – York has already confirmed that it will stage the competition in 2014.

The competition rules dictate that each student must give an engaging presentation with just one projected slide to help bring their research to life. Aids such as music, videos, rapping, animation, movement, costumes and props are strictly banned.

Entrants are judged on comprehensibility, engagement and communication, including whether they clearly describe the results of their research, capture the audience’s attention and avoid using jargon.

At the Leeds event, Stavros Orfanos, a PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London, took second place with his talk on research about non-verbal group therapy for schizophrenia patients.

Alexia Koletsou, who is studying at the University of Glasgow, came third, explaining how the best behaviours for sustainability are not those the public follow.

Paul Harrison, dean of postgraduate research studies at Leeds, said the competition helped students to appreciate the depth of research going on in other schools, and aided in breaking down interdisciplinary boundaries. “At an individual level [students] also get an experience that builds confidence, presentation skills and employability,” he added.

Learning how to succinctly explain your research helps to show the public how the research process really works, added Abbie Fearon, a finalist from Queen Mary. It might even help students prepare for their viva voce, she added.


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