3 lessons we can all take from 3MT

It’s nearly my favourite time of year! The University of Birmingham 3 Minute Thesis competition is coming up, and I really, really love it. It’s the point in the year where some of UoB’s brilliant PGRs share their research and their enthusiasm for it in three-minute presentations, and it always gets me how interesting and impactful all the research is and how engaging our PGRs are.

The UoB 3MT 2021 winner

If you want to participate in this year’s 3MT competition, there’s still time to sign up – the deadline for expressions of interest is Sunday 10 April. However, there are three key lessons I think all researchers can learn from 3MT, whether or not they participate.

The big picture is important

When working out how to present your research in your 3MT, it’s necessary to take a step back from the detail of your research. Or a few steps back. You need to be able to see how your research fits into the bigger picture. What’s the point? Where’s the impact? Why should anyone else care?

These questions are important not only because they help us to communicate the value of our research to others (useful for grant applications, setting up collaborations, and relatives who think we’re wasting our time still being a “student”) but also because they remind us of why we’re doing this work in the first place. It’s easy when you’re bogged down in minute details to lose enthusiasm and motivation, but keeping the end goals and potential impact in mind can counteract this.

Language matters

For the intelligent, non-expert audience for 3MT, unexplained jargon is just confusing. This audience is very capable of understanding complex ideas, but not when this is dressed up in a plethora of discipline-specific terms or phrases. But that’s not to say that all jargon is automatically bad – sometimes using a specifically defined term can help to clarify what you’re saying. The key thing is always to think about what your audience might be expected to already understand, work out which terms they need, and then define those terms clearly. That relationship between your choice of language and your audience is critical.

Everything gets better with feedback

In previous years, a great little community has grown up around 3MT, with competitors helping each other to develop their presentations. Different perspectives and new ideas suggested by others always help to really lift the quality. The evolution of competitors’ 3MT presentations from the practice heats, through the heats and on to the final is always a joy to behold and results in a superbly engaging, interesting final.

This works particularly well in 3MT because the other competitors are so representative of the target audience. And I think this is the take-away point. When you get feedback, whatever it’s on, see if you can get it from someone who’s just like your audience. I have a good friend who has always been a step or two ahead of me in our chosen career, so always gets roped in to review my job applications. Your supervisor can give you good feedback on your thesis chapters, of course, but also knows a lot about your specific research already – can you additionally ask someone who is familiar with your discipline but new to your research (just like your examiners will be) to give you feedback on some sections?

3MT is a great experience, and I hope you can participate, but even if not, you can still capitalise on some of the lessons those competitors will learn.

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Helen Kara

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