3 Minute Thesis for everybody

Dal's annual contest of brains and brevity returns

- January 14, 2020

Last year's 3MT top 3, left to right: Baillie Holmes, Adrian Herod and Dilshan Weerasinghe.
Last year's 3MT top 3, left to right: Baillie Holmes, Adrian Herod and Dilshan Weerasinghe.

Registration is now open for the 2020 edition of Dal’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

The annual event, organized by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, challenges master’s and doctoral students to share the complexities of their research in front of an audience and a panel of judges with only one PowerPoint slide and 180 seconds to make their point.

The event rewards brevity and impact, and $4,000 in cash prizes hang in the balance; a traditional thesis defence, it’s not.

The 3 Minute Thesis competition’s preliminary heats are scheduled for March 10, with the finals taking place the evening of March 11.

Register today: Sign up to take part in this year's 3 Minute Thesis competition by February 21

Invitation to all

3MT typically attracts student researchers from Dal’s science-based faculties in large numbers, but this year the Faculty of Graduate Studies is keen to increase representation from across the university’s disciplines.  Despite being traditionally underrepresented, students from the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Law, Management, and Architecture and Planning have performed extremely well over the years.

Case in point: Despite fewer than five per cent of total 3MT participants being from FASS in 2019, Musicology student Dilshan Weerasinghe placed in the top three at the competition finals. A similar scenario unfolded in 2017.

“Our goal this year is to motivate more students to get involved. Three Minute Thesis is ultimately our best opportunity to showcase our graduate research to the public, who come to see the event,” says Marty Leonard, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

“If we’re not sharing our strength across all of our faculties, we’re just not providing the full picture of Dal’s stellar graduate programs. So, FASS, Law, Management, and Architecture and Planning, we want to hear from you. I wager this is your year to take home the 3MT title!”

Dean Leonard also encourages students who may not feel entirely comfortable with their English language skills to get involved, noting that Dal’s College of Continuing Education offers a free 3MT prep course as part of their English as an additional language programming.

“With a bit of training and a plan for their presentation, students whose first language isn’t English are always extremely competitive,” says Dr. Leonard.

Meet last year’s top 3

To help provide a picture of what it takes to succeed at 3MT, we talked to the top three contenders from 2019 to share their experiences and their tips for success.

Adrian Herod, PhD, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

After some convincing from his supervisor, Adrian decided to enter 3MT for the first time in 2019 and ended up winning the whole thing with his pun-heavy presentation, Salmonella, we’ll infect you if you lettuce. First place included a $2,000 cash prize and a paid trip to 3MT’s Eastern Regional finals in Montreal.

While he admitted to having some fear of public speaking beforehand, Adrian says the experience has made him more confident in discussing his research. “Generating a speech forced me to identify the main reasons why the public should care about my research. As an added bonus, I now have a concise and comprehensive way to explain my research.”

His preparation started in earnest one month before the competition when he attended the Faculty of Graduate Studies 3MT workshop. He then wrote a rough draft of his speech and workshopped it with friends and colleagues with previous 3MT experience. “Having numerous people look over my script and slide really assisted in trimming the fat and keeping the presentation clear and concise.”

During the week before 3MT, Adrian spent 2-3 hours per day practicing and fine-tuning, rehearsing in front of friends in order to receive feedback, and by himself in front of a mirror to work on body language.

In his fifth year of PhD studies when he entered 3MT, Adrian says he wishes he’d done so sooner. “Every graduate student should participate in 3MT as there is absolutely nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Aside from the prize money, it’s a fantastic opportunity to connect and learn from other graduate students outside of our own research areas.”

Baillie Holmes, MASc., Environmental Engineering, Civil and Resource and Engineering

After starting her master’s program in January, Baillie jumped right into 3MT. Her biggest concern was that in simplifying her research she might somehow misrepresent it. “I wanted to make sure I had a singular clear message that everyone could understand,” she said. “It forced me to put a lot of thought into the fundamental basic concepts that underlie my research,” something she did while enlisting supervisors and peers for help with fact-checking and revisions.

Her final presentation, Algae, Archives and the Mattatall Lake Conundrum, was ready about two weeks in advance of 3MT. She says she then rehearsed for a maximum of 20 minutes per day, but not all at once. “I didn’t have a dedicated practice time. It’s pretty easy to practice while doing other things, like walking somewhere, driving, brushing my teeth, in the lab. I figured that if I could do it with loads of distractions, then it would be simple the day of.”

Baillie recommends 3MT to any graduate student. “The benefit really comes from the process of making the talk,” she said. “It requires you to think really hard about your project, ask questions and put your research into simple terms.

“Once you have that ability, you make it easier for yourself to understand what it is you are doing, and you can make it easier for others moving forward.”

Dilshan Weerasinghe, MA, Musicology

Dilshan says his presentation We Gon’ Be Alright: Race, Representation, and Kendrick Lamar came together just over a week before 3MT’s first round. “My background is in performing music, so I tried to treat 3MT like prepping for a performance, putting in heavier practice time early on, and then tapering it off as the competition drew nearer so that the presentation didn’t feel scripted or over-rehearsed, and still felt natural.”

He says the benefits of 3MT come from its biggest difficulty. “Due to the small time frame, you’re forced to figure out how to succinctly convey your ideas, so that you can express as much information as possible in the short time interval. It makes you get to the core of what your research is about, and think about it clearly. Not only do you improve your articulation of those ideas, but it helps you see your own research with a much higher degree of clarity, which was really helpful for me.”

While only a select few 3MT participants advance past the opening round, Dilshan notes the value in preparing a presentation. “It’s a great chance to practice clearly articulating your research ideas, finding the most core elements of your research, developing a clear understanding of what the goal of your research is and how to express this in front of a crowd.

“Regardless of the outcome, 3MT is definitely a great opportunity!”

For more presentations from years past, check out the FGS YouTube channel


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