If you’re a PhD student, you already know how isolating the experience can be. The only thing that could possibly exacerbate that experience is probably a global pandemic… (thanks a bunch, 2020!)
When I applied to 3MT last year, I had been working from home for over a year, and had barely been talking to other students about my research.
I was in the 3rd year of my PhD, and I was totally bogged down by the methodological details of my thesis. I was completely obsessed with whether I was using the correct statistical tests for my hypotheses, and totally fixated on the precise language to use when describing my variables and theoretical models.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but 3MT was just what I needed to get out of my own head and remind myself of the ‘bigger picture’ of my thesis.
I applied to 3MT initially because friends who had previously taken part encouraged me to, and I thought that it would be a nice opportunity to get exposure of my research to a wider audience. I was delighted when I was offered a place in the final, especially knowing they had received so many submissions.
Taking the time to develop my talk really improved my ability to communicate my PhD. I realised how what I’d originally thought of as complex concepts, could instead be described in really simple and engaging ways to a wider audience. My thesis is about working memory. Those of you who are familiar with the term through studying Psychology might be aware of the decades of research debating the precise nature of the theoretical basis of working memory and how to define, measure, and explain it. But for the 3MT audience (where the majority of the audience probably hadn’t studied Psychology), I realised I was able to just describe it as a ‘mental post-it note’.
After being accepted into the final, the Building Research and Innovation Capacity (BRIC) team arranged training sessions to develop our talks. The other finalists and a public speaking specialist all gave each other feedback, which was really helpful, and I was given hints and tips to make my talk more engaging. Getting feedback from others gave me insight into which details of my PhD were most interesting to a lay audience (which, I’m sure it will surprise you to learn, did not relate to the decades of research regarding the theoretical basis of working memory…)
It was great to meet other students and find out about each other’s PhDs. There is such a variety of research going on at York, and you are rarely exposed to other student’s research unless you seek it out. I was so excited by all of their interesting topics that by the end of the session, I was rooting for all the other speakers to end up in the top 3!
Life after 3MT
The live 3MT final was a really exciting experience – my family and colleagues were all really excited to watch it. Being awarded with third place was a very welcome surprise, and it gave me a new found confidence in my research.
After the live 3MT final, I was just about to begin writing the dreaded discussion chapters for my thesis. I was surprised that other students had warned me about writing the discussion – they had described it as the most difficult chapter, and I’d heard numerous horror stories about all-nighters and stressed supervisors. I found that summarising my results and describing the bigger picture of my thesis came naturally. Because of 3MT, I had remembered why my research was so important, and all I had to do was put pen to paper to explain it.
Since 3MT, I’ve had emails from academics and members of the public to express their interest in my work, and it’s really nice to see that the talk reached a wider audience. Another nice side effect of 3MT is that it has finally given me the ability to explain my research to my family. There’ll be no more bamboozled looks from my parents when I try to explain which statistical tests I’m using to test my hypotheses, because 3MT meant that I took the time to see the bigger picture.
*First published in 2022, dates and graphic updated for 2023 competition. Quote from Kate edited to reflect RETT now being called Building Research and Innovation Capacity (BRIC) Team.