Imagine trying to summarize years of dissertation work into a short three-minute presentation. That’s the idea behind the Three-Minute Thesis competition, or 3MT, which has taken Canada’s graduate studies departments by storm.
The concept is simple: participating graduate students are asked to do an oral presentation explaining their research in just three minutes in a language that’s accessible to a non-specialist audience and with the aide of just a single slide. Started at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008, it first appeared in Canada at the University of British Columbia in 2011. A handful of other Canadian universities followed suit in 2012 and this year at least 20 were holding 3MT competitions from Vancouver to Halifax. There’s even an Ontario-wide finale where the winners from 17 Ontario universities will face off at Queen’s University on April 18.
“It’s a really wonderful opportunity to train students to promote themselves, to promote their research, and really to promote the graduate enterprise,” says Mary-Ellen Kelm, associate dean of graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, which held its first 3MT competition this year in early March. The public gets to see that the graduate students are doing important work, she says, while the students get to improve their presentation skills and learn to communicate more effectively.
After a successful competition last year, Concordia University will be holding its second 3MT this April. Many of last year’s participants have indicated that they’d like to participate again and have invited their friends to join as well, says Laurie Lamoureux Scholes, director of the graduate and professional skills program at Concordia. “Most graduate students dedicate a great deal of energy, passion and time into their research areas, and often in isolation, so it’s great for them to be able to share that passion with a broader audience,” she says.
The 3MT competitions are free and open to anyone who’d like to attend. Contestants are evaluated by three main criteria: communication style, comprehension and engagement. The competition is generally divided into two rounds and money prizes are awarded to top winners.
Carole El Ayoubi, who’s doing her PhD in engineering, was the “People’s Choice” winner at Concordia’s 3MT competition last year. For the event, her thesis title, “Film Cooling Optimization in Gas Turbine Engines,” became the snappier “Now Leaving at Gate 6!” The competition itself “was a little stressful,” she says, “but looking back at it now, it was fun because I got to see so many amazing stage performances.”
Many universities, including Concordia, hold training workshops prior to the competition, which Ms. El Ayoubi made sure to attend. “I learned how things like physical postures, movement, body language, as well as voice intonation, can be very important when trying to convey a message. I learned that, if I wanted to, I can be brave and go on stage in front of a lot of people.”