Lifelong skills gained in Three Minute Thesis contest

Doctoral student Tom Finn

Academia’s equivalent of television’s Idol singing competition is a great way to boost confidence and gain lifelong skills in presentation and public speaking, says last year’s winner Tom Finn.

He is urging PhD students to enter this year’s competition – dubbed 3MT – which involves speaking for three minutes on the theme of your doctoral thesis with just one Powerpoint slide as a prop. Preliminary rounds will run on all three campuses from July 22, and students can register to enter now.

The Three Minute Thesis is a research communication competition which challenges research higher degree students to give a compelling presentation on their thesis and its significance in language easily understood by a non-specialist audience.

A fundamental sciences PhD student who is now working for AgResearch, Mr Finn used the movies Jurassic Park and The Hunger Games to explain complex microbiology and win last year’s Three-Minute-Thesis competition at Massey.

He went from being the ‘Wildcard’ choice to winner of the Massey finals. He then became one of three New Zealand students in the top eight at the Trans-Tasman Grand Finals held at the University of Western Australia in Sydney last November.

Mr Finn says he was reluctant to enter at first and hated the idea of public speaking. But he convinced himself he should be able to tackle the format of three minutes, one slide and no questions from the audience. He had some training with Associate Professor in Expressive Arts Angie Farrow that enabled him to “fake confidence” and present without succumbing to nerves.

“It’s such a fun competition,” he says. “The best part for me was going from the Wildcard to the finals. It was a great experience. And it's a good thing to have on your CV.”

He says condensing his thesis – Understanding bacterial adaptation to aerobic and anaerobic environments through environmental evolution and whole genome analysis – into three-minutes was hard.

“It was tough, my supervisors and friends helped a lot. But once I had the idea of the Jurassic Park and Hunger Games, it just fell into place.”

Mr Finn, from the Institute of Fundamental Sciences, won $1000 towards research costs, and was also awarded the People’s Choice and received a $500 book voucher. Last year more than 60 students from a range of disciplines participated in Massey’s third Three-Minute-Thesis competition, with the top 10 presenting at the final event. An 80,000-word thesis would usually take nine hours to present.

For more details and to register click here.

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