Feb. 10, 2020

Graduate students, tell us your research story

Practise making your research accessible by competing in the 2020 UCalgary Three Minute Thesis – registration open until Feb. 24

Quantum physics, polymer nanocomposites, conceptual elucidation — to many it’s just jargon, but UCalgary graduate students have been demystifying their research for seven years in the UCalgary Three Minute Thesis (UCalgary 3MT) competition. Now it’s your turn!

The 3MT competition is an internationally recognized research communication competition that challenges grad students to make their research clear to a lay audience using a single slide in just three minutes.

To some, it might sound daunting. Two of last year’s finalists and master communicators, Annie Hoang (chemistry) and Darren Mazzei (community health sciences), make the case for why you should take on the challenge and register for the 2020 UCalgary Three Minute Thesis competition:

1. Builds your confidence in public speaking

Although both admit that they still get jitters when it’s time to present in front of a crowd, Hoang and Mazzei have gained tremendous confidence in public speaking since participating in 2019 UCalgary 3MT.

 The more public speaking I do, the easier it gets.

- Darren Mazzei, community health sciences student

This applies to all forms of the grad student experience from being a teaching assistant to presenting at conferences and entering pitch competitions to defending a thesis.

“During my undergrad, and even when I started grad school, I didn’t think I was very good at public speaking,” says Hoang. “It was incredibly nerve-racking to do group meeting talks and class presentations, and I always felt a huge wave of anxiety before I had to present anything.

"I thought to myself, ‘How about the 3MT?’ I liked the idea of doing a very short talk. It’s sort of like testing the waters first by dipping your toe in the swimming pool before going into the deep end.”

2. Makes your research more accessible

Have you ever gotten a blank stare when you answer the commonly asked question: “What do you do”? The UCalgary 3MT can help with that. It challenges you to communicate your research to as wide an audience as possible. The more people that understand what you are doing, the more people will appreciate your research.

As Hoang puts it, “Isn’t one of the reasons why we do our research to help the world and the people in it? The knowledge we gain from conducting our research shouldn’t be kept secret or be solely communicated for the technical experts — it should be shared and be available for everyone to understand.”

3. Networking

While competing in the 3MT, you’ll connect with students from other faculties, make friends, and gain confidence. The UCalgary community is excited to hear and support graduate students. Both Mazzei and Hoang found fans among the UCalgary Senate.

Mazzei describes meeting a senate member at the UCalgary finals: “Before 3MT I would have been intimidated to speak with senate members because they are all incredibly successful, but it felt easy to speak with these important people after practising my communication skills for 3MT.”

Decided to do the UCalgary 3MT?

Here are some tips from Hoang to help you excel:

  • Tell a good story (with a cohesive beginning, middle and end). Don’t forget to emphasize why the audience should care about your research.
  • Try to use simple analogies. For my nanoparticles, I compared them to Easter eggs.
  • Have a simple, yet impactful slide. It shouldn’t be overly complicated or have too much on it. Don’t expect your slide to explain everything — you are the main show, not the slide.
  • Find people outside of your field (even completely left field) to give you their opinions on your talk. There are things that you may think are trivial, but they may not obvious to non-experts. To me, it’s a lot like doing a new experiment, you try something and it doesn’t work at first. Then you change a parameter and try again, maybe the results are a little bit better (and maybe it’s not). You keep repeating this process until the experiment works. And when it does work, it’ll feel great.
  • When you do the 3MT, you may forget a line or misspeak. Don’t worry about it — it happens to all of us. Just keep going — you are the expert in the room and the audience is here to listen and learn from you.
  • Lastly, remember to have fun and don’t forget to breathe.

Attend a workshop and register

The My GradSkills team has workshops to help you prepare, delivered by Dr. Tara Christie, PhD, My GradSkills manager, and other experts within the field of vocal and presentation skills. Remember, most students that go to finals have attended at least one workshop. See important dates and registration.

The first place UCalgary winner receives $1,000, second place wins $500 and third place wins $250. Registration for the UCalgary 3MT is open until Feb. 24. Heats take place in March and the finals are on April 7. See more details about the finals.

Watch Annie Hoang's 2019 3MT talk

Finalist

Annie Hoang, Chemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Viola Birss, PhD
Lower Cost Particles for Eco-Friendly Vehicles

Watch Darren Mazzei's 2019 3MT talk

Finalist

Darren Mazzei, Medicine - Medical Science
Supervisor: Dr. Deborah Marshall, PhD
Economics, Arthritis and Making Tough Choices in Health Care