As a PhD student you’re often asked “So what's your PhD on?”. When asked by a person familiar with your area of research, this question poses no challenges! However if the person asking is not familiar with your research area, or even research at all, you may find this a rather challenging question. The reason it’s challenging is this; if you’re anything like me, it’s at this point you debate in your own head whether to inundate them with the innermost workings of your research, (it’s at this point you see their eyes glaze over following your lengthy but brilliant description of Bayesian regularisation and Fourier transformations), or give a brief but vague description of your work, after which they are none the wiser and you feel as though you’ve done your hard work a disservice. This was certainly my experience, until recently when I entered the Three minute thesis challenge.
The Three Minute Thesis is a competition in which doctoral candidates have to present a compelling spoken presentation on their research topic and its significance to a lay audience (in only three minutes). Being able to effectively communicate your research topic and its impact is an essential skill necessary for your viva, conferences, teaching and dissemination of your work to the public. As a PhD student, you want your work to have a real impact on the world and you want people to engage with it and share it. These are fundamental parts of the research process and are often questions that may get asked when presenting your work at a scientific conference or on grant applications. The Three Minute Thesis is a fantastic process for developing these academic, presentation, and research communication skills. It challenges you to identify the key components of your research and present it in a format that captivates a non-specialist audience without losing the engagement of a specialist in the audience. The presentation format is different to traditional academic presentations, with only three minutes and a single slide to convey your thesis. The removal of the traditional academic “homely comforts” pushes you to be more innovative and find alternate ways of delivering your work. There is a big emphasis on engaging the audience “leaving them wanting more”. You are penalised equally for using specialist terminology AND not being specific enough about your research. You have to make your words and the time count, as failure to keep to your allocated three minutes results in disqualification!
The skills gained from this experience have been extremely beneficial and I would strongly advocate taking up the Three Minute Thesis challenge to any PhD student. The opportunity to present in differing settings and to different audiences has complimented my presentation skills. The ability to engage any audience has improved my confidence in presenting, whether it is on a conference stage or standing next to my poster at a conference. Additionally, being able to clearly articulate my research and its impact has helped in scientific presentations, viva preparation and grant applications. Finally, after four years, even my Dad knows what my PhD involves!
Fraser Philp of ISTM giving his 3MT presentation at the Bob Beattie Postgraduate Student of the Year