By Victoria Cronin. PhD student and 3MT Survivor in the School of Chemistry.

With entries now open for the 2017 ‘Three Minute Thesis’ competition (or 3MT), I’d like to share my experience of last year’s event and offer a few handy tips that I picked up along the way, all in the hope of convincing you to give it a go!

So, why did I apply for the 3MT?

Last year, in search of a new challenge as well as a break from the day-to-day PhD grind, I decided to sign myself up for the 3MT. The chance to win £500 of Amazon vouchers in just 3 minutes was admittedly part of the draw, but I was also keen to fine-tune my presentation skills. By this point, I’d already attended a whole host of conferences and poster sessions, often missing out on that elusive poster prize. The ability to communicate my research in a succinct and engaging way was still a vital PhD skill to master!

How did we prepare for the 3MT?

Training for the heats began with a workshop by Dr Sam Illingworth, an expert in science communication. From the minute we entered the room, he provided a masterclass in how to grab the attention of an audience. He explained the format of the competition, shared some nifty presentation tips and probed our ability to simplify our research. Then away we went, challenged to present our entire PhD thesis in just 3 minutes, with 1 static slide and not a single prop to hide behind!

The heats ran smoothly, the judging panel provided friendly and constructive feedback and I was lucky enough to make it into the final alongside 11 other eager PhD competitors. To prepare us for the event we were invited to a second round of training: ‘The Athletics of Performance Presentation’ by Caroline Clegg, a performance coach with a background in drama and the performing arts. The afternoon workshop was a brilliant chance to get to know the other contestants. We were all taken well outside of our comfort zone, experiencing a bizarre mix of icebreaker games, vocal exercises and body language drills. We were encouraged to shout across the room, projecting and enunciating each syllable. We then cringed as our 3MT presentations were filmed, re-played and critiqued by one other. Along with having a great laugh, we received insightful and individually tailored advice on how to nail our presentation technique, which has definitely helped in PhD talks since!

The 3MT Final

The final itself was both nerve-wracking and a lot of fun! There was a brilliant turn out, with many of us inviting our friends and fellow group members for support (and possibly votes…with the £100 audience choice prize in mind?). The expert judging panel again provided useful and confidence-boosting feedback! Although I didn’t secure myself a prize, the 3MT was a great experience! We received fantastic training and I would definitely encourage anyone and everyone to give it a go!

3 reasons to enter the 3MT?

  • Remind yourself why your PhD is so great! – It can be easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day nitty gritty of PhD life and lose track of what attracted you to your research in the first place. In having to convince others how exciting my research was, I found it a great chance to remind myself!
  • Impress your friends and family – the next time that friend or family member politely asks what your PhD is about you’ll be ready to reel off a concise and understandable account – which won’t leave them drowning in jargon or bored to tears!
  • Expand your horizons – 3MT was a great chance to meet PhD students across a whole range of different research areas, from understanding the placenta to investigating the Australian coal industry!

3 top tips for 3MT success?

  • Keep it simple – since you’re only allowed 1 slide it can be tempting to cram it full of information, but choosing just one simple stand-out image is far more effective.
  • Make a story – everyone loves a good story and the presentations which stood out (and also scored best with the judges) had a clear narrative – beginning, middle and end!
  • Be animated – we were encouraged to use our body language, arm movements and voice for effect (although unfortunately no singing or rapping allowed)!

This post was orginally published on 22 March 2017 on The University of Manchester STEPS blog site.