This is a guest post by Catherine Holden. Catherine is currently a PhD student in the school of Chemistry.
Why would anyone choose to present their PhD thesis in just three minutes of spoken word? Not just that, but to a lay audience and with the aid of a single static image? Especially, if your subject is a Organic Chemistry, which makes even medical students wince.
I decided to give the Three Minute Thesis ® (3MT) Competition a go anyway.
Recently I had had become overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of work I was going to have to do to complete. Also, I was starting to lose sight of what my thesis would be and why I was doing a PhD! By thinking about how I was going to convince a non-scientist audience that the research I was doing was interesting, I hoped remind myself.
During a Three Minute Thesis the participant must convey their research question, their methodology and the real world impact of the work they are doing. Or as I thought of it: the what, the how and the why.
As I reflected one the “what”, I thought about the origins of my research which dates back over 100 years, and how the field has progressed. I had considered the esoteric nature of the molecule I am researching in to mean that it was unimportant. In fact this just makes it all the more interesting and challenging to work with. Thinking about how to explain my research question has actually given me a much clearer idea of the focus of my thesis.
Explaining the “how” of organic synthesis to a panel of judges, who probably hadn’t thought about atoms since they were sixteen, was certainly the biggest challenge. Describing the complexity of chemical synthesis required some complex hand gestures!
Finally, I had to convince the audience of the “real world” importance of the research. There were two aspects to this, but I only really had time to explain one. I chose to explain how the structure of the molecules we make are found in drugs, agricultural chemicals and functional materials. There is a Nobel prize winning approach to making these molecules, which uses a a very expensive metal. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to explain the aspect that our method circumvents the need to use this metal. Maybe this is why I didn’t win…
…Actually, this was probably because of the incredible talent I was in competition with. The other contestants were fantastically engaging in putting across their own work. The winner, Fiona Henderson, even managed to make her research humorous (and memorable), whilst the runner up, Laura Newsome, painted a striking picture of the microbial world as she spoke.
It was a fantastic event showcasing the research done within our university. The environment was warm and supportive so I would certainly recommended the experience as an introduction to both public engagement and presenting your research in public.
Check out all the videos from the university final here.