Timely presentations of graduate research

Graduate student research

Timely presentations of graduate research

The Three Minute Thesis competition offers Queen’s graduate students a unique opportunity to present their research… in 180 seconds or less.

By Jake Harris, University Relations Intern

April 12, 2023


[Group photo of researchers and judges of 3MT)
About 40 Queen's graduate students participated in the week-long competition, with 12 making it to the finale for the chance to win $1,000.

At one time or another, we’ve all been asked for our "elevator pitch." The task challenges you to think about how you would share with a stranger the most important aspects about yourself within the brief duration of an imaginary 30-second elevator ride. The Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT) offers a similar exercise with the added benefit of a little more time.

Developed by the University of Queensland, the 3MT gives master’s and doctoral students 180 seconds to present their research to a panel of non-specialist judges. Working with just one presentation slide, researchers must determine how best to translate and share their work using compelling and captivating storytelling. Participants in the Queen’s competition also vie for a top cash prize of $1,000.

Brought to Canada in 2012, 3MT has grown in popularity with researchers as a unique opportunity to promote their work and think about their research with new perspectives. Universities host individual competitions with winners then representing their institutions at the regional level. Queen’s has been selected to host this year’s Ontario competition beginning May 17. Those winners then go on to compete at the national and international levels with opportunities to win additional prize money and share their research with even wider audiences.

To prepare participants, the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (SGSPA) offers workshops and practice sessions to help researchers fine tune the content of their presentations and the way that they deliver them. The 2023 Queen’s 3MT competition recently wrapped up after three heats culminating in a finale on March 22. The final round of the regional competition at Queen’s this year featured researchers from the departments of Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy; Nursing; Computing; Electrical and Computer Engineering; Art History; Chemistry; Kinesiology and Health Studies; Pathology and Molecular Medicine; and Neuroscience.

Queen's finale

[Photo of El Zahraa Majed accepting her winning prize]
Queen's 2023 3MT winner El Zahraa Mahjed is a doctoral candidate in Kinesiology and Health Studies.

The $1,000 top prize was awarded to El Zahraa Majed, PhD candidate in Kinesiology and Health Studies. Her research project "How to Belong? Physical Activity as a Vehicle for Integration," talks about the isolation of immigrants joining new societies, and how it affects their physical and mental health. Majed’s research looks to physical activity to be the bridge between integration and belonging for immigrants relocating to Canada. "Practice makes perfect, I really think that what makes you very comfortable speaking to a large audience depends on how much you have practiced," says Majed. "I practiced in front of my lab mates, friends, family, and to myself as well, constantly, before the competition."

First runner-up was Martha Whitfield, PhD student in the School of Nursing, taking home $500 in prize money. Her project "Practicing on the Verge: Treatment of the Opioid use Disorder in Primary Care," focuses on the development of patient-centered skills that allow nurses to best treat individuals suffering from opioid use. These skills are becoming increasingly necessary due to the speed at which new street drugs are being produced, which clinical guidelines cannot keep up with.

Audience members also voted on their favourite with Annelies Verellen, master’s student in Art History, winning the People’s Choice. Her presentation "Painting is a Woman: The Allegory of Painting in Women’s Self-Portraiture," explores the idea of female self-portraiture through the concept of pictura. Pictura emphasizes the woman in self-portraiture as actively at work, showcasing her intelligence, beauty, and admirability.

Judging this event were a group of successful Queen’s alumni, including Allison Turner, Stacy G. Kelly, and Brandon Tozzo. Turner (MASc’10, Sc’08) is the Co-Founder and Director of product development at PnuVax Incorporated, a biomanufacturing company. Kelly (Artsci’93) is the Executive Director of the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area, which facilitates relationships between donors and community organizations. Tozzo (PhD’12) is the City Councilor for Kingscourt-Rideau in Kingston and a political studies professor at Trent University.

Preparing your presentation

For those thinking about competing next year, Majed offers some valuable advice. "I think the biggest challenge was to simplify what I have done in my research so that the audience can understand my work well and feel my material is relatable to them, without simplifying it too much in a way that would make it feel not important," explains Majed. "I took feedback on my script from different individuals from a variety of backgrounds. The SGSPA also have great resources and workshops that really helped me and my peers to improve our scripts and make it to the finals."

For more info on this year’s 3MT winners and the upcoming Ontario competition, visit the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.

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