Your thesis in 180 seconds
I took part in the 3 Minutes Thesis competition! Sure, after arriving (unexpectedly) 3rd at the College Med Vet round, I’ve lost at the University finale, but it was a fantastic experience, and I cannot recommend it enough! Here are a few reasons why YOU should do it too.
1.Only one way forward: conciseness
What can you do in 3 minutes? It’s not quite long enough to make a soft boiled egg, but just good for a nice cup of black or green tea. 3 Minutes is quite a short time to cover that gargantuan piece that is a PhD. The first step is to identify what you want to cover, and what, ultimately, isn’t essential to understand why your work matters. However, even after the necessary pruning, there’s still quite a lot to cover, and that’s where one of the key skills of the 3MT comes in: practicing conciseness!
The ability to present complex information/a process/phenomenon concisely and clearly is extremely valuable in research, be it to present your research to the community, to funders, or even to fellow researchers, and the 3MT is a brilliant (and brutal) way to practice this!
I find myself having to explain my research to people way more often than I thought I would (the oddest one lately: my stomatologist decided to spend half of our 10-min long pre-operative appointment talking about my work). If you’re like me, you have only 2 answers to the sudden, unexpected, way-too-keen questions about your work: a waterfall of unnecessary details, or a confused stutter. Thanks to the 3MT, I now have an all-ready pitch of my research! A few days before the Uni finale I attended a workshop with TV and film writers organised by the Edinburgh Film Festival. We only had 15 min to present our work to the writers, and while the other researchers were struggling a bit to find the best angle to present their work, I was all set!
3.Stress for talks
I’ve always been relatively comfortable with oral presentations, and I’m even more so now that the thing I have to present is my own work (and that I know it quite a bit). Nonetheless, I still have that rush of anxiety and stress right before my turn, and during the first 5 minutes or so of my presentation. We’re talking shaky voice, dry mouth, and FRENCHEST ACCENT IN TOWN (that one might be the most painful, as I’m actively trying to lose it). While usually all of this goes away after 5 minutes or so, I knew it would be even worse during the 3MT, because this talk involved learning your presentation by heart, something I’m extremely bad at. I approached the 3MT as an opportunity for me to work on that stress and challenge it. Honestly, it was so traumatising that now I feel like I can get up and give a talk in the spot, and no other talk will ever be that challenging (except the viva, of course).
Because every single one of these 180 seconds is worth gold, the 3MT is a perfect training for your presentation skills. Every second, every word, every breath has to carry meaning and purpose. The key to a powerful presentation is not only the words, but also how the words are said: the pace, the tone, the intonation. When you don’t have enough time to convey all your information solely with words, you have to learn how to make the most of all these other elements of the talk. I particularly struggled with pauses: how long should the pauses be to allow enough time for reflection (and drama), without unnecessarily wasting precious seconds? The University of Edinburgh invested in 1.5 days of training for the finalists, focusing on slide design and presentation skills and it might have been one of the most useful trainings I’ve attended.
5.The core of what you do and why you do it
When you reach the 3rd year, you’ve done SO MUCH WORK already, you’ve juggled with so many concepts and idea, you’ve collected so much data, that it’s easy to feel drowned in it all and loose sight of what really matters. In your 3MT talk, there’s no need to show how complex your methods is, how gigantic your data is. What we want to know is why you do it. The 3MT forced me to put all of that Everest of work into perspective, and go back to what made me believe this adventure was worth 3.5 years of my life (and the money, and the mental health, and all the PhD joys…). It revived the passion for my project, and reminded me that beyond the data and the day-to-day stats hell, my research will help people. It sort of made me fall in love with my research all over again (just in time to analyse the biggest part of my data and write the whole thing up. How lucky.)
6.My fellow finalists
Lastly, I will say that what I’ve enjoyed the most about the 3MT was meeting these wonderful, talented, passionate fellow PhD students from all the different fields researched at the University of Edinburgh. My lab being quite isolated, I rarely get to meet students from other sites, so I was glad to share this experience with a few of them. It absolutely never felt like we were competing with each other, and on the contrary, it was all about helping each other to improve our presentations, relax, and have a good time. I was expecting the 3MT to be a stressful, competitive, lonely experience, but my cohort was the best crew I could have hoped for. Honestly, I was not in the least disappointed to loose, as I was just genuinely so happy for the winners! Now good luck to them for the UK round!
Now, if you’re really keen, I’ll let you enjoy my extremely relaxed and comfortable 3MT talk. (I haven’t actually watched it (as I hate to see my face and hear my voice), but I swear my accent isn’t usually that strong.)