Category Archives: Three Minute Thesis

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 For the initial heat, I found myself having to explain the peculiarities of historical documents some 4,000 years old to an audience drawn from education, business, earth science, astrophysics and English literature.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.


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


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: