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03 August 2010

Using plain language to explain a doctoral thesis — in just 3 minutes

Recently Moira Smith was a guest speaker at one of our weekly staff meetings here at Write. Moira presented her entry in the University of Otago ‘Three Minute Thesis’ (3MT) competition.

Moira’s a research fellow and PhD candidate in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago in Wellington. Her research is about the food environment for children’s sport. She started her research this year and recently won the Wellington heat of the 3MT competition.

What’s the 3MT competition all about?
Students speak about their thesis topic for 3 minutes and are allowed to show just one PowerPoint slide. They need to communicate the essence of their research in a succinct, engaging presentation. They’ll answer the question ‘what’s your thesis about?’ in a way that a lay audience can readily understand.

Judges look for appropriate communication style. They consider how well the audience understands the purpose and scope of the research topic, and whether the presentation makes the audience want to know more. Speak for longer than 3 minutes and you’ll be disqualified!

What are the benefits of 3MT?
3MT is all about effective communication. Researchers develop their communication skills. The audience gets to hear about research projects in language they understand. The competition helps to bring research into the mainstream — and to bring plain language into the academic world!

‘Thesis Idol’
This is only the second year of the competition in New Zealand, but public interest is growing. Students will have a studio audience of 400 at the Dunedin finals, which will be on Cue TV (SKY Chanel 110) in early September. More details soon.

We wish Moira well for the next round of the competition! She’ll be going to Dunedin for the final in late August. The winner goes on to compete in Brisbane at the Australasian final. Our fingers are crossed!


  1. Thanks to Write for giving me the opportunity to present my 3MT at your meeting recently. The 'more times the merrier' at the moment. My poor dog is visibly tired of hearing it over and over and over again.

    Actually, my colleagues roped me into entering and secretly I'm quite pleased they did. I started my 'Photovoice' fieldwork at the end of last month and my 3MT has come in handy. I've used it to get buy-in from team coaches and to 'sell' my project to players and their parents - my prospective participants. It's also given me the confidence to address sometimes large groups of people in challenging and unusual conditions - 'cold-calling' fashion.

    And isn't it funny how things go full circle? By fronting-up to sports teams and giving my 'blurb' I find I've been practicing for the 3MT competition - a win-win situation.

    Yes, two weeks to go...'lights, camera, action'! An audience of 400? Publicity posters, personal bios, TV interviews, did I really sign up for all that? Piece of cake. On August 19th I will just pretend I am in the Write office doing a re-take.

    My next challenge? Getting the senior academics to follow in our footsteps and present their own 3MT. Good luck with that, huh? Watch this space!

  2. It was a great presentation, Moira - and a really cool idea.

    All the best on 19 August.