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3 Minute Thesis: A PhD Elevator Pitch


Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is a science communication challenge founded by The University of Queensland (my home university). But don’t let the short time limit of the challenge fool you, it’s deceptively hard to distil a 3+ year long PhD into a 3 minute elevator pitch!

I decided to enter my institute’s 3MT competition this year. So I wrote the first draft of a script and was pretty happy with myself… Until I read it back aloud and realised it was 6 minutes long! Not to mention too detailed & scientifically minded.

The challenge of sharing your research to a general audience in as little as 3 minutes requires more than just clearly explaining your science. You have to get creative to transform your PhD thesis into a 3 minute work of art!

An 80,000 word PhD thesis would take 9 hours to present. Their time limit… 3 minutes
The University of Queensland

Your question should be: How can I engage everyone in the audience with my topic and leave them with a greater understanding of my research field, without becoming bogged down in details and jargon?

The Hook

In the end, it took me 8 draft revisions to get to a script that I was happy with (and also under the 3 minute limit!). The most vital part of this process involved continually reshaping and refining the structure of the script – especially when it came to the Hook of the presentation.

Note: And now – after watching 3MT videos from the finalists of other institutes around UQ – I see how I can still greatly improve my hook & my whole presentation in general: It involves creating a central storyline or metaphor for your presentation to work around!

My hook:

Sustainability. It has become the defining challenge of our lifetime. Our reliance on finite resources is a roadblock in our future towards sustainable energy, chemicals & materials. We need sustainable resources to create sustainable solutions…

Okay so I don’t know if you noticed this, but I just bombarded you with the sustainability buzzword 4 times in the last 20 seconds!

Drafting Process

To visualise how the script evolved throughout the revision process, I’ve colour-coded the different sections (or scientific components) within the script. I’ve also added small discussions around the difference between each revision and the theory behind these changes.

I hope you find this helpful, and I’m happy to help anyone with script writing for 3MT or other similar science communication presentations!

3 Minute Thesis Script (V1 → V4)

From Version 1 to Version 4:

♦ Changed the title to something more descriptive
♦ Changed the hook to try to make people think about what sustainability means
♦ Added more context around what plant fibres are
♦ Tried to link together nanofibre section with sustainability
♦ Streamlined evolutionary framework explanation
♦ Cut down a lot of words!

3 Minute Thesis Script (V4 → V8)

From Version 4 to Version 8:

♦ Changed the title to reflect the hook at the start
♦ Altered the hook to highlight the fact that there are so many discussions around sustainability, but that we should start and reflect upon what sustainability actually means
♦ Added rhetorical questions around sustainability solutions (plants) to create a more engaging presentation
♦ Completely removed section about nanofibers and decided against any mention of ‘nano’ to avoid adding too many scientific elements and confusing the audience
♦ Created more aura around the introduction of sorghum (“in the green corner”)
♦ Significantly streamlined the quality control model section & removed any mention of ‘evolutionary framework’ to avoid confusion.

3MT Video – 1st Version

AIBN Institute Winning Video

3MT Video – Final Version

Finalist in The University of Queensland Institutes 3MT competition

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