Summary statements: Grad students prepare for 3 Minute Thesis competition

Competition takes place March 6 and 7

- February 27, 2013

PhD student Shea Balish practices his three minute speech, stopwatch in hand. (Bruce Bottomley photo)
PhD student Shea Balish practices his three minute speech, stopwatch in hand. (Bruce Bottomley photo)

“There’s no time to explain” sounds like a movie cliché, but sometimes it’s true: whether in an elevator or a dinner party, grad students may only have a short window of conversation to sum up their research interests.

That skill for insightful brevity will be put to the test at Dal’s first 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition next week. Close to 100 graduate students are signed up to compete.

The format comes to Canada from the University of Queensland in Australia where it was hugely successful among PhD and master's students looking to improve their communication skills and gain a platform to promote their research.  

“It’s a communications-based activity where the students are challenged to try and make their research exciting and interesting and relevant to people who are not specialists in that topic area,” says Katelynn Northam, recruitment and student services assistant with the Faculty of Graduate Studies and one of the organizers of the 3MT competition.

Making research accessible

This year, Dalhousie will join schools like the University of British Columbia, Concordia University and Western University in hosting a 3MT competition. The participants will present their respective thesis projects in three minutes or less. They’ll be judged not on the content of their presentation, but on their ability to summarize and make their research more accessible to a wider audience.

The judging panel includes faculty from a wide range of disciplines as well as Dalhousie staff members, so participants have to ensure that they avoid discipline specific jargon and complicated explanations.

“They have to try and use lay terms ... try to explain to people how the research they are doing relates to something that might be very personal to the audience or just relevant to everyday life,” says Northam.

She adds that the Faculty of Graduate Studies saw the competition as a unique way to offer some professional development in an important area. No matter how brilliant a writer or researcher a grad student may be, sometimes it takes presentation and verbal communication skills to help their research reach a wider audience. Plus, the ability for students to market their work is crucial in the competitive world of research funding and grants.

“Sometimes graduate students have to spend a good chunk of time by themselves in the lab, so an opportunity to engage in a competition that doesn’t require too much time and is also a social activity is great,” says Shea Balish, a 3MT competitor who is in his second-year of Dalhousie’s Interdisciplinary PhD program. His research focuses on sport participation.

“You have to decide if [a particular term or phrase from you research] is worth saying over and over again or whether there is another, more accessible way you can say it,” says Jean Burrows, a Kinesiology PhD student who will also be competing.

There are also big prizes at stake: a $1,000 scholarship for first place, with a $500 scholarship for the runner-up. There will also be a $250 scholarship awarded to a people’s choice recipient. All three winners will also be given the chance to present at the TEDx Nova Scotia event at Dal on March 10.

All rounds of the 3MT competition are free and open to the public. The preliminary heats take place Wednesday, March 6 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in room 303 of the Student Union Building. The finals will be held in Theatre B of the Tupper Building on Thursday, March 7, starting at 6:30 p.m.


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