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Graduate students hone skills in Three Minute Thesis

[Three Minute Thesis]
Sima Zakani, a graduate student in Mechanical and Materials Engineering, earned the People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Three Minute Thesis event at Queen’s University. (University Communications)

Brevity is the soul of wit but it can also help graduate students at Queen’s University earn some cash and valuable experience.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is a university-wide event for Queen’s Masters (thesis or research project), doctoral students, and, new this year, post-doctoral fellows, in which participants are given a mere 180 seconds to present their research and its wider impact to a panel of non-specialist judges.

While the subject matter can be complex, the rules are simple: presenters have three minutes and are permitted one static Powerpoint slide. There are no props – such as costumes, laser pointers and note cards – allowed nor additional electronic media – including sound and video files.

“The Three Minute Thesis competition is a fantastic event for everyone. Graduate students who participate hone their presentation skills and gain valuable experience in communicating the importance and significance of their research to people with a variety of backgrounds – these are critical skills that will serve our students well in whatever they do post-graduation,” says Brenda Brouwer, Vice-Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies. “Also, the audience has the rare opportunity to learn first-hand about the wide-range of research that our graduate students are engaged in and how it might impact society. The inclusion of post-doctoral fellows into the event this year will make it truly a reflection of what Queen’s research trainees are up to in the research realm.”

The key, of course, is communication, distilling research into a clear form, without over-simplifying or making overly-complex.

“Despite what everyone thinks, 3MT is more about reaching out rather than presentation skills,” says Sima Zakani, a graduate student in Mechanical and Materials Engineering and the 2014 People’s Choice Award winner. “It gives you exposure and echoes your voice for the public. It also pushes you to get a better narrative of what it is that you do and articulate it in a more condensed fashion. It can be your first chance to use the feedback of friends, colleagues and audience to better promote yourself and your research.”

It’s also experience that will prove valuable for life after university.

“The Three Minute Thesis was a great chance to develop skills that are critical to academia,” says 2014 winner Mike Best, a PhD student studying Clinical Psychology. “It gave me the opportunity to try a completely new style of presenting and what I learned I have been able to apply to improve how I teach and give conference presentations. The competition also opened up other opportunities to me such as being interviewed on local television and for print news stories.”

Initial heats will be held March 10 and 12 and, if required, a third heat will be on March 9. The final is scheduled for March 24. The School of Graduate Studies offers support and training to prepare for the event in the form of a workshop and practice sessions.

The graduate student winner of the event will receive $1,000 and represent Queen’s at the Ontario 3MT (due to provincial rules only students can proceed to the next round). The runner-up will receive $500.