Anna Kent – Tackling the 3 Minute Thesis

Postgraduate student Anna Kent recently took part in the 3 Minute Thesis at Deakin University’s Faculty of Arts and Education Summer School and has shared her experience:

‘Tackling the 3 Minute Thesis’

If you hang around universities or university types, by now you’ve probably heard about three minute thesis competitions, or 3MT® as it is known.  Started by the University of Queensland in 2008, the challenge is simple – condense your thesis into three minutes, resist the urge to use PowerPoint to excess (one static slide only!), present it to a crowded room, be judged by both the audience and ‘judges’ and see how you go!

I have tossed up doing a 3MT for a while, firstly based on my MA research, and more recently my PhD.  Every time it has come up, I have talked myself out of it (hello imposter syndrome!).  But when notice of the program for the Faculty of Arts and Education HDR Summer School included an invitation to participate in a 3MT – I signed up. And then pretended I hadn’t.  Until I really had to do something about it. 

First step – what does a good 3MT look like?  This research might have been terrible for my confidence, but it was very useful to get an understanding of what 3MT’s are actually about.  It turns out, they’re not really about trying to fit your whole thesis into three minutes.  They’re actually about finding the ‘hook’ in your thesis – why is it important? How does it have real world impact? You use this hook to engage your audience, and explain to an intelligent but not specialised group of people why (and a little bit on how) you are doing what you’re doing.

This helped me to frame my speech. I then set about writing, and two pages in I thought…how many words is three minutes of talking?  It turns out, three minutes of speaking is only about 390 words on average. As you would know, that is not much. Less than one page. Just a few more words than the number I’ve already written in this piece!

Editing begins. And because I am indecisive, I write two possible speeches – and test them to see which one is best. Meanwhile, I was also thinking about my slide. Given you are allowed only one slide, and no other props, it is important. Many 3MTers have busy slides of process maps, multiple pictures or many words.  The 3MTs I like though, are the ones with a simple and effective slide. Not too many words, not too much going on.  My speech revolved around the idea of 8000 Indonesians who had studied in Australia – so I went to Google and found what I thought was a great image to represent that scale, with a human face.

As the Summer School approached, I grew increasingly nervous about standing in front of a large crowd giving a rehearsed speech. I present in public relatively regularly, and whilst I get nervous – the fixed nature of what I had to say, and the time limit, really played on my mind – no waffling allowed.

I didn’t rehearse enough, and so my speech was not memorised. And this was a key error. The best 3MTs (including the winner at Summer School) are delivered fluently – directly to the audience. No reading of notes, speech cards or any other assistance. I know this for next time.

How did I go I hear you ask? Well, I did it. That was my first goal. My slide was great – and achieved what I wanted it to. And I finished just on three minutes, so no time wasted. But there was much to be improved in content and delivery. Nevertheless, the process has been invaluable. I may have rushed the final paragraph when I delivered the 3MT, but that paragraph allows me to distil the value of my project into a few lines. This will be incredibly useful to me as I now start to arrange interviews and access archives.



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