Category Archives: Competitions

Durham student wins third prize at regional Three-Minute Thesis competition

The regional Three-Minute Thesis competition took place on 15 June 2016 at Newcastle University. 13 postgraduate researchers from the five North East universities (Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside) competed against each other, among them Andrew Robertson, Will Cowley and Chris Jones from Durham University. Chris from the Chemistry Department won the third prize with his presentation titled ‘Ropemaking with helical gel fibres’. Congratulations!

Winners of Three-Minute Thesis competition 2016

Winners of Faculty Heats:

Arts & Humanities:

Carissa Foo, English Studies:

Phenomenology of Place in Early Twentieth Century Women’s Writing


Catherine Blackwell, Department of Chemistry:

Biodegradable Polyurethanes

Social Sciences & Health:

Claire Reed, School of Education: Exploring the purpose and function of the shadow education system.

 Winners of the University Final:

Winner:                       Jenny Horrocks, Department of Geography:

How did Antarctica react to past warm periods?


Runner-up:                  Claire Reed, School of Education:

Exploring the purpose and function of the shadow education system.


People’s choice           Jenny Horrocks, Department of Geography:

How did Antarctica react to past warm periods?

Jenny will participate in the 3MT online semi-final organised by VITAE.


Reflections by Rune Rattenborg, one of the finalists of the Three-Minute Thesis competition

Working with a part of human history hard to find even in the most voluminous general reader, I have grown accustomed to communicating my research to academic peers and specialists. Not so with the Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT), put together by the Centre for Academic, Researcher and Organisation Development (CAROD) of Durham University! For the initial heat, I found myself having to explain the peculiarities of historical documents some 4,000 years old to an audience drawn from education, business, earth science, astrophysics and English literature. And that, if you haven’t tried it before, is hard. Surprisingly enough, it’s also quite fun!

I stumbled onto the 3MT thinking that I had a fairly good idea what my research project was about. Seeing that I am currently finishing up my final draft after more than three years in Durham, I suppose that I’d better. But thinking about how to communicate my work to a non-specialist within a matter of minutes was never something that really came up in supervision meetings or in workshops. In that sense, three minute talks are a great way to make you think again about what makes your work important, and to whom.

Communicating your research to a general audience in a matter of minutes is not just about throwing catchy one-liners. You are building an argument, yet a simple, convincing, and coherent one. You are doing so without jargon, having to accept that you don’t have the room or the time to go back and explain what this or that exotic term just meant. And most importantly, you get to point out, in the clearest of words, what it is that you are actually doing, where it leads you, and why the people listening should even care.

At least, that was the initial challenge. Merely applying to participate requires you to summarise your doctoral thesis in 50 words. Which more or less equals this and the preceding two sentences, plus a couple of carefully balanced adjectives in strategic locations. Then comes working up what you are going to say. In three minutes, you have something like 350 words. No more than that. Enough for a regular conference abstract, or all of the words in this blog posting until now. You have got one slide with no moving parts, and otherwise you are on your own. You can’t bring costumes, friends, or deliver your presentation in a musical or lyrical form. Dancing, which I briefly considered, is also banned.

My fellow postgraduates generally consider me an academic chatterbox. In that regard, 3MT taught me a lot about sticking to a clearly defined storyline, and to level with my audience in a way that is not usually an integral part of average conference presentations. You have to engage your listener much faster, get to the point early on, and make sure that they are with you all the way. Most importantly, it made me better at understanding my own line of research from a general perspective, to understand how my work relates to areas that I would not usually think about at all back at my department desk, and to formulate that in a concise and engaging manner.

On the other side of the university finals, I still think that 3MT competitions is definitely worth trying out (even though I didn’t win). Next to fellow postgraduate students presenting on everything from dark matter to ice cores and shadow education policy, I’ve come to understand that any research topic, including my own, can and should be tried out in a format like this. Doing so, you come to realise that anything, no matter how nerdy it may seem at first glance, can be made interesting to a general audience. It’s merely a question of thinking it through.

Durham University offers numerous programmes to develop your general skills, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. This kind of training is important, not only to sharpen your ability to communicate, interact, and engage with the wider public, but also, I find, because it stimulates new or innovative perspectives on your professional, academic work. Participating in the 3MT certainly gave me plenty of new insights on my own.


Durham’s Post-Graduate Student Poster Competition

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A digested version of my own personal reflection

Mika Laiho – 5 May 2016

Toward the end of slogging out your PhD, the opportunity to present a poster about your research at an academic conference is not something most would do. Why? Because amidst the hubbub of most academic conferences, people you wish to engage do not necessarily have the time to take a look at the poster session because they are doing more ‘important’ things like preparing their own oral presentations or networking. Weighed up against the possibility of having less ‘impact,’ spending more money and potentially more time designing, writing, editing and printing the poster may seem unappealing to many post-graduate students.

However, last Thursday afternoon, at Claypath Public Library, I explained the significance of my research to members of the public, mingled with postgrads from other departments ranging from Physics to Education, and gave Sir Thomas Allen an overview of Arctic carbon geographies. This event was completely different to academic endeavours and my poster became more than just a costly fad. I may not have won anything, but I felt like me and my poster were alive, my research was ‘out there,’ and my time was well spent giving something back to the local community.


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Top Left: Mika Laiho, Department of Geography and Durham Energy Institute, presenting poster about imaginary Arctic spaces to the Chancellor; Top Right: Group Photo; Bottom: Lucy Szablewska, Department of Geography, with poster about Polish workers and carers in the background.

Personally, the experience was hugely beneficial to me in terms of explaining my research to non-geographers, although some input from Professor Peter Atkins was much appreciated. From the perspective of learning about others’s work, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to hear more about different projects, perspectives on the world, and it was fantastic witnessing the genuine willingness to engage with a broader audience outside of our personal ‘silos.’ Also, learning how others present research in an accessible way is an important lifetime skill, which is why I would recommend taking part in the event if or when it happens again.

The winners of the poster competition were:

The Best Poster – Faculty of Social Sciences:

Alice Amber Keegan – Dept of Anthropology: How can we make co-sleeping safer for all babies?

 The Best Poster – Faculty of Science

Aisha Bismillah – Dept of Chemistry: Shapeshifting Molecules as Chemical Sensors

 Best Overall Poster as Voted by Judges:

Hannah Bolt – Dept of Chemistry: Developing Peptide-Mimetics for the Treatment of Cutaneous Leishmaniasis

 Best Overall Poster voted by Entrants and Visitors

Hannah Bolt – Dept of Chemistry: Developing Peptide-Mimetics for the Treatment of Cutaneous Leishmaniasis

Best Online Poster as Voted by Judges:

Andrea Darling, School of Applied Social Sciences:

Women don’t do that, do they? Child sexual abuse by women who work with children

The competition was judged by Dr Simon Goon, Managing Director of Business Durham, Steve Kirk, senior teaching fellow and director of the English Language Centre’s summer Pre-Sessional programmes in academic language and literacy skills, Dr Eleanor Loughlin, Student Study Skills co-ordinator for Durham University, Dr Malcolm Murray, e-Learning Manager at Durham University, and Dr Sam Nolan, Assistant Director of the Centre for Academic, Researcher & Organisation Development & Honorary Fellow in the School of Education at Durham University.

If you would like to know more information about the PG poster competition, please contact Christine Bohlander:


Three-Minute Thesis Competition

Hogan Lovells Lecture Theatre, Durham University Law School

11 May 2016, 2.00 – 3.30 pm

Could you present three years of work in just three minutes? That is the challenge for seven doctoral research students competing to represent their university at a regional competition and hoping to win a place in the grand final in Manchester in September.

Durham University is inviting the public to help judge how well its PhD students present and explain their research in three minutes, in the University’s final heat of the ‘3-Minute Thesis’ competition.

The winners will go on to the regional final, competing against the other North East universities, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside.

PhD students typically spend several years carrying out original research and writing up their findings in a thesis in order to gain a doctorate. An 80,000 word thesis would typically take nine hours if presented in its entirety.

The 3-Minute Thesis competition was originally developed by The University of Queensland, Australia in 2008, to celebrate the exciting research conducted by PhD students. The popularity of the competition has increased and 3MT competitions are now held in over 200 universities across more than 18 countries worldwide.

The judging panel for the University final will include Sir Thomas Allen, Chancellor of Durham University, Colin Baine, Dean and Deputy to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Claire Whitelaw, Deputy Director of Communications.

Christine Bohlander, Researcher Development Officer with Durham University’ Centre for Academic, Researcher and Organisation Development (CAROD) and organiser of the event explained: “This is a great opportunity to hear about research taking place at Durham in a fun and informative way.

“It also gives our students the chance to share their knowledge and develop presenting and communication skills which will be invaluable in their chosen future careers.”

Research students will be presenting on a wide range of topics as follows:

Faculty of Social Sciences & Health:

Jenny Horrocks, Department of Geography: Using the past to predict the future: How did Antarctica react to past climate change?

Rune Rattenborg, Department of Archaeology: The scale and extent of early state economies of the Bronze Age Middle East (c. 2000-1600 BCE)

Claire Reed, School of Education: Exploring the purpose and function of the shadow education system.

Faculty of Science:

Catherine Blackwell, Department of Chemistry: Synthesis of biodegradable plastics

William Cowley, Department of Physics: Modelling the Dusty Universe

Christopher Jones, Department of Chemistry: Ropemaking with helical gel fibres

Andrew Robertson, Department of Physics: The Fundamental Particle Properties of Dark Matter


Durham PGR Poster Competition on 28 April

From infant safe-sleep boxes, females’ sexual abuse of children, visual distraction in the classroom and biodegradable polyurethanes to the EU’s imaginings of the Arctic and the orientation of Roman forts in Northern England, to name but a few, this is a chance for everybody to find out in a relaxed atmosphere about the research that postgraduates at Durham University do.

The event will be held at Clayport Library and will be open to the wider community. From school and college pupils thinking about future careers to members of the public interested in finding out what actually goes on at the University, everyone is welcome and everyone attending will have the opportunity to vote for their favourite poster.

10.00 am – 3.00pm – The competition will be open to the public throughout the day and researchers will be available as much as possible to discuss their posters with visitors and other entrants.

2.30 pm: Awarding of prizes by the Chancellor of Durham University, Sir Thomas Allen.

The judges will be drawn from a wide range of academic and non-academic backgrounds and there will also be an audience winner.


Haifaa Alabbad, School of Education: Does pupils’ attendance in school make a difference in academic attainment?

Eman Altuwaijri, School of Engineering and Computing Science: Supporting Ambulance Crews through Electronic Information Provision

Aisha Bismillah, Department of Chemistry: Shapeshifting Molecules as Chemical Sensors

Catherine Blackwell, Department of Chemistry: Biodegradable Polyurethanes

Hannah Bolt, Department of Chemistry: Developing peptidomimetics for the treatment of neglected diseases

Andrea Darling, School of Applied Social Sciences: Understanding females who sexually abuse children in organisational contexts

Emma Dobson, School of Education: Educator-student Communication in Sex & Relationship Education


Diana Gimenez-Ibanez, Department of Chemistry: Tuning peptoid structure by fluorine incorporation


Emily Grew, Department of Psychology:

Visual distraction in the primary school classroom


Elizabeth Hidson, School of Education: A study of teachers’ professional knowledge and pedagogical practices in planning Computing lessons


Alice-Amber Keegan, Department of Anthropology: Can Infant Safe Sleep boxes facilitate safe co-sleeping for both breast and formula feeding mothers?


Mika Laiho, Department of Geography: How the EU imagines the Arctic: Geographies of Carbon in Discourse and Practice


Sarah Metcalfe, School of Education: Masculinity and femininity – overcoming the gender battle to engage in sport


Wee Sing Ngu, School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health: Accuracy of Detection using Endocuff Optimisation of Mucosal Abnormalities – The ADENOMA Study


Nahid Rezwana, Department of Geography: Gendered impacts of disasters on accessibility to healthcare facilities in the coastal region of Bangladesh


Chunhua Shao, School of Education: Student Nurses’ Intercultural Experiences in Clinical Placement


Lara Siobhan Rebecca Small, Department of Physics: Mimicking Nature’s Machines: Making Synthetic Nanomotors


Lucy Smout Szablewska, Department of Geography: A Life’s Work: the transnational care practices and informal welfare networks of Polish workers in NE England


Andrew Tibbs, Department of Archaeology: Facing the Enemy: The Orientation of Roman forts in Northern Britain


Three Minute Thesis Faculty Heats

Entries for this years three minute thesis are now in, and the faculty heats will be held in March

  • 2nd March: 2 – 4 pm: Arts & Humanities in Hogan Lovells Lecture Theatre (Law School)
  • 9th March: 2 – 4 pm: Science in Hogan Lovells Lecture Theatre (Law School)
  • 16th March: 2 – 4 pm: Social Sciences in CG85(Chemistry)

This contest gives PhD students the opportunity to try and explain their thesis in 3 minutes with 1 slide of content. Everybody is welcome to attend, an example video from last year’s overall winner Rachel Dunn is shown below: