As a PhD student in OZ I have been encouraged to participate in a competition called the 3M thesis. This competition is for PhD students and consists of a 3Minute presentation of your thesis to a lay audience. This competition started in 2008 in Australia and it has become very popular. Most universities run internal competitions, and then send their best representatives to the national finals.
The promoters of this competition say that the 3M thesis is not a “an exercise in trivialising or ‘dumbing-down’ research but forces students to consolidate their ideas and crystalise their research discoveries.” Is that true? Well, I have been asked to do my 3MT twice, and that experience has made me wonder if it has really contributed to focus on my research and improve it. On one hand you have got the challenge to condensate an 80,000 word thesis into 3 minutes, and on the other, you have to be able to communicate it persuasively. Can you do it? How can you do it? What for?
I revised some of the videos of the finalists and winners of previous years, and most of them belong to the natural sciences. Their presentations started with an anecdote or a general question attracting people’s attention, that lead to their research question, and the last minute was used to reveal their research discovery. Does that pattern work in social sciences as well? The 2011 winner was a young criminologist talking about advanced techniques for identifying fingerprints. The runner up was a dietitian working in intensive-care units; the People’s Choice award went to a pharmacologist studying cannabinoid receptors. Of 10 finalists, only one was working in literature (she studies Australian women’s travel narratives as found in blogs). There was not a single one from education . Is it just a coincidence that the social sciences are underrepresented in the 3MT competition?
I don’t know if I am getting too cynical or what, but these competitions like the3 M thesis or Dance your PhD feel a bit wrong. It makes me wonder if all the effort that PhD students put in trying to communicate complex ideas in 3 minutes is really worthy. I would be very interested to know about how these experiences shape the Phd students learnings’, or how the 3 MT contributes towards the completion of a PhD. And of course, I’d be very keen to ask PhD students in the social sciences what they think about the 3 M thesis.