Three-Minute Thesis: From Contestant to Judge

By Sophie Damy

Summer seems to have finally arrived in London and it is hard not to start thinking about the holidays. Imagine, in a few weeks, going back home to visit your family and having to answer the recurring question: “What is it exactly that you are researching?” In my case, I can categorically forget the usual “I am developing algorithms to minimise the bias created by deterministic errors on the position estimated by a satellite-based positioning system.” You will need to keep your explanation clear and concise while trying to share your enthusiasm.

This situation is actually pretty similar to the 3-minute thesis competition! The rules are simple: one static slide, no prop and most importantly, strictly three minutes (timed to the second) to convince a diverse audience of the interest and importance of your research.

Preparing for the departmental competition two years ago, the exercise revealed itself more challenging than I first expected. Three minutes is very short. It forces you to select the essential facts and present them so that they are clearly connected. All this while dismissing the scientific jargon you are so used to employ. In the end, and despite being only three minutes long, this presentation took a long time to prepare.

But these efforts were rewarded and I got selected to represent the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the College 3 minute competition with 18 other students, representing over 10 departments and institutes. That was a total of 57 minutes of diverse and captivating research! But to be honest, while sitting and waiting for my turn to come, these were actually quite stressful minutes.

Fortunately for me, the jury shared my frustration with signal failures and delayed trains and the idea I developed to solve the issue and awarded me the first prize for my presentation “Bringing train travel to the space age!” It was a great honour, especially as the competition was tenacious with a flurry of interesting and entertaining talks.

One of the great things about receiving the first prize is that you are invited back next year, but this time you get to sit on the other side of the table, as a member of the jury! Admittedly, this is a much more pleasant place to be with a fraction of the stress despite the importance of the duty. This year, 23 candidates are waiting to present their research. As each approaches the front of the room, I think of all the work they have done to prepare for these three minutes. The more effortless the presentation appears, the more likely the preparation was rigorous. Thanks to the Graduate School organisation, the event runs like clockwork! The enthusiasm and passion of each candidate for their research are tangible and highly contagious, and the afternoon just flies by.

The time for the deliberations arrives. With so many original ideas and presentations, it takes four judges to make the difficult decision in selecting the three winners. But all presenters should be very proud today, they did an amazing job. I have learnt so much this afternoon and in such an entertaining way!

One thing is clear after having experienced both ‘sides’ of the table: the general public is curious about science and researchers are happy to explain their work. And I believe the 3-minute thesis competition may actually be the best format to fulfil expectations from both sides in an enjoyable way!

Top left: Chief Judge, Rosie Waldron, me and 3MT Chair, Professor