In this post Jenny Horrocks, a PhD student in Physical Geography, discusses the challenges of summarising a thesis in 3 minutes!


I’m a PhD student in the Department of Geography and my research uses marine sediments from Antarctica to reconstruct long-term climate change. On 12th September 2016, I competed in the national final of the UK 3 Minute Thesis competition, which gives PhD students three minutes to summarise their research to a non-specialist audience. The competition is strict: you can have one PowerPoint slide, no animations, no notes, no props, no poems, no singing or dancing (ok, I was a little relieved about that one) and if you go over three minutes, you are disqualified. You are judged on a mix of content and comprehension with engagement and delivery.

I’d struggled with public speaking and have been working hard throughout my PhD to improve my skills, so I applied for the 3MT competition as a way to put what I had learnt into practice. I had been to every (yes, every) presentation skills course offered by the Centre for Academic, Researcher and Organisation Development (CAROD) and was generously awarded an Employability Scholarship by University College to do some external training.

I won the Durham University 3MT final in May and the video of me talking at the Durham final was then submitted into an online semi-final, which featured the winners from 56 UK universities. To my shock, the judges selected me to be part of the top 6 and to compete in the national final.

The final was held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester as part of the Researcher Development conference of Vitae, a non-profit organisation which supports researchers. Being a native Mancunian, it was exciting to be back in my home city and in such a prestigious building! We were due to talk before the conference dinner and got to practice standing on the stage with our Britney-style face mics, which made us all begin our practice with “Ooh, is that really what I sound like?”. Fortunately, we’d all gotten used to it by the time of the actual talks, and, despite the nerves presenting in front of 350 people, everyone did incredibly well. The other finalists were so supportive and the audience were instructed that cheers and whooping after each talk were not only encouraged, but expected.


Jenny Horrocks presenting at the 3 Minute Thesis Competition

Jenny Horrocks presenting at the 3 Minute Thesis Competition


The judges then deliberated during dinner and announced the winner as Nazira Albargothy, who spoke on her work investigating drugs for neurological disorders, and the audience voted their winner as Maddie Long, whose research involves the impact of being bilingual in helping to prevent cognitive ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease. Jonathon Lambert, Melissa Colloff, Katie Groves and I were runners up, and we were all given excellent outreach advice and career help from Vitae staff and conference attendees after the dinner.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone at CAROD, particularly Christine Bohlander, Bob Matthews, Sam Nolan and Carolyn McAlhone for all of their help and support through the process, and to Vitae for running the national competition.

I’ve made memories I’ll keep forever (probably including the actual talk, given the number of times I recited it in my sleep in a bid to remember it!). My advice for anyone even remotely considering entering the 3MT next year is just do it! You’ll meet friendly people, hear about fascinating research and get the chance to develop your public speaking skills in a supportive environment.

You can view the video of Jenny presenting her 3 minute thesis here.

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