Three Minute Thesis competition returns

Sierra Holtzheuser is the winner of last year's Three Minute Thesis competition.

Sierra Holtzheuser is the winner of last year's Three Minute Thesis competition.

It’s back.

Brock’s Faculty of Graduate Studies invites graduate students to participate in the 2014 Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition.

Contest participants have three minutes, and not a second more, to talk about their research and why it matters in a way that will inform and captivate a non-specialist audience. Along with keeping to the three-minute timeframe, the contestants are limited to using only one PowerPoint slide for the duration of the presentation.

Contest eligibility for 2014 has added masters students doing a research project to the competition mix. The contest is open to registered graduate students who are in their final stages of research in:
• a master’s by thesis;
• a master’s by research project;
• a PhD program.
Students who have successfully defended their thesis, but have not yet graduated, are also eligible.

Important dates

Graduate students who meet the contest criteria, have until Friday, Jan. 24 to register for the contest online on the conference website.

To help graduate students prepare to participate in the contest, general information sessions will be held Monday, Jan. 13 and Wednesday, Jan. 15 ahead of the registration deadline.

A coaching session is also being planned for early February. More information about the contest, including eligibility and rules, confidentiality and intellectual property guidelines, judging criteria and important dates, is featured on Brock’s 3MT® website.

The contest will kick off in late February with a preliminary round to determine who goes on to the final held during the annual Mapping the New Knowledges Graduate Student Research Conference on Monday, April 7.

The winner of Brock’s contest will receive $500 and the runner-up $250. They will also advance to the provincial 3MT® competition hosted by McMaster University on Thursday, April 24. The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies is sponsoring the first-ever national competition in May.

The contest experience

Sierra Holtzheuser, Brock’s 2013 3MT® champion, shares her experience and some advice for this year’s contestants. Holtzheuser graduated last year with an MA in Child and Youth Studies and is a PhD student at the University of Toronto.

How would you describe the challenge of preparing and presenting a Three Minute Thesis®?

The preparation of a Three Minute Thesis® is time-consuming and challenging. It’s difficult to determine what to include and how to simplify your research so that it’s coherent and accessible to the general public.

The aspect that I struggled with most was how to ‘hook’ the audience. I watched videos of many of the winning presentations from around the world and each one had an interesting and thought-provoking opening statement that grabbed the attention of the entire room. I ended up re-writing my first sentence about 100 times, including a revision the morning of the competition!

Another challenge is getting out of the mindset that this is just another conference presentation. It certainly is not. At a conference you may be presenting your research to a group of experts in your field and you’ll outline where your research fits within the current literature, your theoretical background, and your methodology.

But at the Three Minute Thesis® competition you are presenting to a group of people who know very little about your field of research and you don’t have the luxury of covering all the aforementioned information, as you only have three minutes to convince them that your research is worthwhile.

What did you gain from the experience of participating in the contest?

Participating in the Three Minute Thesis® competition taught me to simplify and condense complicated material into something accessible and interesting. This experience has been useful when applying for scholarships and PhD programs, where I had a limited amount of space to sell myself and my research.

What was it like to compete at the provincial level?

The provincial competition was a little more nerve-racking. I was competing against the best one or two candidates from 15 schools in Ontario, in front of a large group of unfamiliar faces. But I had memorized my presentation and felt confident in my delivery. What I appreciated most about the provincial competition was the opportunity to hear about the fascinating graduate research that is occurring across Ontario.

What tips can you give students who plan to participate in the contest?

Practice makes perfect. You can’t practise enough. I practised in front of anyone who would listen and made sure that my presentation was coherent and made sense to those who weren’t in my field.

I edited my presentation over 20 times. If something didn’t flow or was unclear, I changed it. I changed my introductory sentence many times. It’s the first thing that the judges will hear and you want them to remember it.

The people who win the 3MT make their research relatable, they speak about the importance of their research, and they don’t overcomplicate their presentation with acronyms and unnecessary terminology. You only have three minutes, use them wisely.

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