3+ years of research in just 3 minutes!

Have you ever tried explaining your research in just three minutes? ⏰

It’s tricky! Squishing three or more years of research into such a short speech is certainly a challenge… but it’s also very rewarding!

During my PhD candidature, I’ve participated in the 3MT and FameLab competitions, where you’re challenged to share your research in an engaging & informative way in just three minutes! In the 3MT competition you get just one slide (with no animations, video or sound) to accompany your speech, while in FameLab you have no slide but you can use props, costume, song, or dance (so long as it’s not dangerous!).

Here I am giving my FameLab speech in the Western Australian Finals earlier this year. Thanks to Erika Roper for the photo!

Here I am giving my FameLab speech in the Western Australian Finals earlier this year. Thanks to Erika Roper for the photo!

When I competed in the University of Western Australia’s 3MT Finals recently, I was delighted and surprised to be awarded the Runner Up Prize! I was then asked to share my experiences of the 3MT and FameLab competitions with other postgrads at my university, both at a luncheon for the Language And Cultural Exchange Club and at the Graduate Research School’s induction for new postgraduate students.

I figured these experiences and discussions might be useful to other postgrads out there on the internet, so thought I’d share all the tips and benefits that we talked about at these events here. If you’re on the fence about 3MT or FameLab, I hope this encourages you to take a step out of your comfort zone and give these competitions a go!


Benefits of giving 3MT or FameLab a go

Here I am after coming Runner Up in this year’s 3 Minute Thesis competition! Thanks to my mum for the photo!

Here I am after coming Runner Up in this year’s 3 Minute Thesis competition! Thanks to my mum for the photo!

👩‍🏫 Gain confidence in public speaking! I couldn't imagine getting up on a stage four years ago, but look at me now!

📰 Get media attention for your research! Since taking these opportunities, I've been able to share my research on radio, TV, and print news

🙌 Make new friends! I've met so many other postgrads through these competitions & everyone is so lovely and supportive

💡 Learn something new! I've heard 3 minute speeches about all sorts of topics, like chemistry, math, physics, engineering, medicine, psychology, sociology, music, art, you name it!

🏆 Win prizes! At UWA, all 3MT finalists got a goody bag from UniBank this year, and I was lucky to come Runner Up which came with a comically over-sized cheque (as you can see!)

🎉 Have fun! Doing a PhD is tough and can be really stressful, and these competitions are a great way to unwind, share your passions, and remind you of the parts of your work that really excite you!


Public Speaking Tips

  • If your university has any workshops to help you prepare your speech - go to them! I found these workshops to be super helpful when I had my first go at writing a 3MT speech last year

  • Write your speech as a story, it’ll help the audience to follow along! Describe the setting, the characters, the conflicts, the resolutions, and give your speech a clear beginning, middle, and end

  • If there are any tricky scientific names, jargon, or words that you find particularly difficult to pronounce, try to cut them out and replace with something simpler

  • Find something that the audience can relate to with your research, to help them engage in your story, whether it be a metaphor, analogy, familiar place / person / character, or even a #relatable anecdote from your own life

  • Rope your lab group, supervisor, friends, family, dog, pot plants, anyone really into listening to your speech - it’s only three minutes of their time after all and they can provide some really valuable feedback

  • Practise, practise, practise! It’s especially helpful to practice in the room where you’ll be giving your talk, if you can, so you can get a feel for the stage and the size of the audience

  • Take advantage of your slide or prop/costume/song/dance, and use this to engage and intrigue the audience, or to help explain a tricky concept, or both! It doesn’t have to be complicated either: one of the best FameLab props I’ve seen was a broom stick!

  • And finally, I know public speaking can be really nerve-wracking, but this is a chance to share something you’re passionate and excited about, so have fun with it! When you’re having fun on stage, the audience will be having fun with you!

A note on just having fun with it

So I just wanted to make a little note at the end here… I’m in my final year of my PhD, trying to write up my thesis and stressing out a little about what lies ahead, so I felt like I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to 3MT this year… But in the end, I was convinced to sign up anyway (thanks mum!) and to just have fun with it!

I’d always wanted to give a talk that revolved around some of the popular culture portrayals of carnivorous plants, so I made my slide before anything else: Super Mario and a Piranha Plant. Simple, but fun, and hopefully something that most people in the audience would recognise and enjoy!

Just having fun with my 3MT slide! Image credits:  Mario  &  Piranha Plant

Just having fun with my 3MT slide! Image credits: Mario & Piranha Plant

The week of the competition rolled around and I’d written up most of my speech already, mish-mashing pieces together from previous talks, conference seminars, and conversations I’ve had over the years. But then, the night before the competition, I hit a wall. I suddenly thought that having my talk based around Super Mario games would be considered too silly! That I wasn’t taking my science seriously enough! My inner monologue was going nuts:

I have to re-write this whole speech.
I should just give a talk I’ve already given before.
Maybe I should pull out of the competition entirely??

Luckily, I snapped out of it and remembered that I’d decided to do this for fun! What was the point of stressing myself out, or giving up, or just doing the same old talk I’ve done before?? There’s nothing wrong with giving a very similar talk again of course, but I’d had fun writing this slightly more quirky version, and I decided to take the opportunity to just have fun with it.

In the end, it really paid off. And not just because the judges liked my talk enough to award me Runner Up and that comically over-sized cheque! More importantly for me, it paid off because I really did have fun. I had fun writing the speech, I had fun on the day hearing everyone else’s talks and meeting new people, and I had SO MUCH FUN up on stage sharing my research and talking about how I really enjoyed playing Super Mario when I was a kid...

So if you’re considering giving one of these competitions a go, I hope that you take my ultimate advice, which has been scattered throughout this blog: just have fun with it!


What do y'all think? If you've done 3MT or FameLab, how was it for you? Am I missing anything from these lists? And are there other similar competitions or opportunities you know about? Let us know! 😊