It’s Only Three Minutes!

by | Jun 23, 2017

This is a post by Melissa Keogh. PhD student in FSE and (spoiler alert) WINNER of the UoM 3MT Competition 2017

This year I took part in the Three Minute Thesis Competition. Coming to the end of my PhD I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to re-focus on and remember what my PhD is actually about.

After sign-up, competitors were invited to attend a research communication training session. It was a great afternoon and really helped get me started on writing my presentation. The first thing we were asked to do was to write three words to describe what we loved about our PhD: but being so far in, we all just wrote three words that summarised our PhDs. Corrosion! Oil! Nickel alloys! Not exactly inspiring. We needed to find the passion. Because if you don’t have a passion for what you do, how can you expect anyone else to?

So working on finding my passion, I wrote my 3MT speech, practiced it a few times and then all of a sudden the heats were here. I was so, so nervous. And the nerves got to me. Halfway through my presentation, I froze. I could see the clock ticking down in front of me. Everyone was waiting for my next sentence. But I didn’t know what it was. My mind was blank. After what seemed like an eternity, I admitted defeat, gave my apologies and sat back down. To put in bluntly, I was gutted! The judges gave me lovely feedback about how well I had started and how disappointed they were that I wasn’t able to finish. Despite the positive feedback, I knew that my 3MT journey was over.

That was until I was given a second chance. I was invited back to try again at the second round of heats. Phew! This time I was determined not to mess it up. I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic friend, Emily, who had competed in 3MT the previous year, and she helped me work on my confidence, sat through practice sessions and came to the heat so that I would have a friendly face in the audience. The second heat went much better and I made it through to the finals.

All finalists were invited to another training session run by Janine Waters, Artistic Director at The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre. We spent the first hour just chatting, getting to know each other and swapping cheese jokes. Janine had us doing different activities from picking postcards to reflect our thoughts on 3MT, to improvisation and speech exercises. The whole afternoon was great fun, and I took away some really valuable tips. The one that sticks with me the most, and probably will for the rest of my life, is to imagine your nerves are in a big pot, and when you feel like the nerves are about to spill over, you put a lid on your pot. Nerves are good and will help you give a great performance if you can just harness them.

On the day of the final, I was nervous, but I had the lid on my pot of nerves, so they were just bubbling away nicely. I was more worried about using the microphone as I’m not a fan of my own voice. But everyone was in the same boat, and actually, it wasn’t all that bad. All of the finalists were amongst some of the nicest, most passionate and interesting people I’ve ever met. We all had different backgrounds and different approaches to our presentations, but the 3MT had brought us together, and we all wanted each other to succeed. There were no thoughts of winning, just ‘wow, what an amazing job they did’. And the atmosphere at the event was fantastic. The finalists had brought friends and family, and other people were just there to enjoy hearing about the diverse research that happens at the University. Emily was there for me; I’m pretty such at this point that she’d heard my presentation often enough that she could have delivered it for me. I can tell you it was probably the quickest three minutes of my life. Once the first sentence came out, the rest just rolled off the tongue. Oil disasters, corrosion and doughnuts and then it was over! The judges were amazing, to everyone, and gave us all really meaningful and encouraging feedback.

Then it was time to announce the winners. I think anyone of us could have won. We all brought something different and something of ourselves to our presentations. Katie Walwyn-Brown and Pilar Cantero-Lopez shared the audience choice, Mike Daniels and his passionate talk about repurposing drugs to tackle Alzheimer’s won second, and me and my corrosion doughnuts won first place!!!

Having come from almost not making it through the heats, to winning, was an amazing experience and an unexpected triumph, and I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of Emily, the other competitors and everyone involved in 3MT.

So if you’re on the fence about applying in 2018, just do it. What have you got to lose? It’s only three minutes.

This post was orginally published on 23 June 2017 on The University of Manchester STEPS blog site.