Feature Friday: 3MT Competition Finalists
A lifetime of study, an infinite pool of knowledge, a very detailed research question, and only three minutes to explain it in.
That’s what participants in a 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) find themselves doing.
The 3MT competition is a battle of brevity, that challenges researchers to explain their research whilst toeing the line of giving accurate and concise detail without overloading the audience with jargon or over-simplifying the message. All while keeping the audience captivated and entertained. Oh, and to add to the mix, they’re only allowed one static slide for their entire presentation.
My first experience of the 3MT was the student competition I took part in as an assessment task during my Communication for Research Scientists class. I’ve loved attending the official 3MT Competition at The University of Melbourne ever since. I’m always in awe of the amazing research going on at the university, and the incredible communication skills on display.
Of course, the competition this year has experienced some setbacks with lockdown, but the show must go on! This year, the finals will take place online, and we’re delighted to announce that in the lineup of finalists are three of our former students!
Without further ado, I would love to introduce the three superstars, and let them explain their research and what brought them to the 3MT competition.
“My PhD is looking at ways to predict the impact of climate change on the type of fires we experience in south-eastern Australia. For example, are bushfires going to become more frequent, more intense, larger? Although somewhat overshadowed by recent events, the bushfires this season demonstrated just how important it will be to understand how the fire regime (long term pattern in size, intensity, frequency) might change under a changing climate. I’m also examining what the impacts will be on plants that have adapted to a specific pattern of fires, and if their populations can continue to persist if those patterns were to change.
It was during my Master of Science degree that I first became interested in fire research. So much so, that I ended up doing a research project focusing on the flammability of different vegetation types in the Otway Ranges. Since then, I have moved into a PhD project that has a strong ecological focus but also includes computer simulation modelling which is an amazing, exciting and rewarding space to be working in.
During lockdown 1.0 I saw the University advertise the 3MT competition and I thought it would be a good way to spice up working from home. It was great to go back to my science communication notes and remember speaking in front of the class every other week during my master’s degree. Although speaking to a computer screen isn’t quite as fun, all the same key lessons still applied.”
“Both my PhD research and work as a Research Fellow involve the development of artificial intelligence (AI) software to be used for medical diagnostics. My career has always involved improving the delivery of healthcare. While working in the field of pharmacogenomics – the study of understanding drug response based on genetic heritability – I realized programming and developing prediction models came very naturally for me. My transition into AI happened quite organically, given it’s a field which allows me to put these skills to very good use.
AI seems like a brand new and shiny technology. But, realistically, the technology has been around for several decades. There’s a 1961 video by MIT, titled The Thinking Machine that I highly recommend you watch. The documentary explored whether machines could think for themselves. The AI machine was compared to several humans and proved useful in playing chess as well as writing a Western film script. You’d think a very human quality, such as creative writing, couldn’t be replicated in a machine, right? Here’s the thing, though. Humans are also programmed beings, much like machines, with the programming consisting of our genes, our environment, education and our society. Pretty mind-blowing, huh?
I’ve always wanted to try out my luck in the 3MT competition. I have been told by a few strangers I have a radio voice and seem very theatrical. It’s a compliment, I swear! I’m hoping these will come in handy during the competition. Also, I believe as a scientist it is my responsibility to ensure my science is accessible to the public; my work shouldn’t feel like a guarded secret that only my peers could understand. After all, my work is to be used in healthcare. Patients have the right to know how this will impact them. So, 3MT is not only an outlet for my theatrics, but it’s an opportunity to share my work with the world.
I had plenty of practice for the 3MT when I was studying Communication for Research Scientists. I remember at each tutorial every student got a chance to get up in front of the class and discuss their research. We received feedback from fellow students in the class; the feedback allowed me to improve my style of communication. Given how often we got a chance to present in front of the class, being able to present effectively became second nature. We all got a chance to give a final presentation at the end of the semester. Thanks to all that training with Dr Martin, the feedback I received from fellow students for my last presentation were, as one student put it, “AWESOME!!””
“During my Bachelor of Science in Zoology I began to take an interest in the birds around me. Living in Melbourne, I wondered how a city environment might affect the birds living in it, and whether city birds behave differently compared to those in the country. This led me to join the Urban Light Lab in Biosciences 4. We in the Urban Light Lab focus on the effects of one of the most dramatic changes caused by cities, artificial light at night (such as streetlights) and whether it could be bad for wildlife. The light bulb was invented just over 100 years ago, yet in that time, the face of the planet has transformed so that now over 80% of the population lives in light polluted areas. For humans we know that light at night has negative effects on our sleep and health, yet we are only beginning to understand whether this might too but affecting our wildlife. My research is examining whether artificial light at night changes night-time bird song behaviour.
The 3MT competition is a unique opportunity where you get to practise public speaking while working with professional science communicators who will help sculpt your skills. The competition not only includes workshops where you learn skills for effective communication, but you also receive individual feedback on your talk. The competition is a supportive environment and I encourage people to get involved. Whether you are new to communication or have been practising for years, there is something to be gained for everyone.”
And of course, I couldn’t let them go without asking about their secret for successful science communication. Here is some of their wisdom for people in their research or SciComm endeavours:
Sarah said “I think the most important message I keep going back to while writing this 3MT or any form of communication, is to think about the story you want to tell!
Janan’s advice was “Put yourself out there. Take every opportunity you can to improve how you communicate your science. Be fearless.”
And Ashton recommends that you “read communication pieces and watch presentations. Decide afterwards what you liked about the presentation and why you think it was effective and just as importantly, recognise what parts didn’t work. When I am putting together communication pieces, I try to incorporate elements that I think work great, while avoiding any pitfalls that I have seen that do not work. Note that great presenters do not have to be professionals and you do not have to focus on your own field. Take tricks and tips from all sources, such as TV, YouTube, seminars, and conferences. There is a lot to learn from many different people.”
I hope you find these tips useful, and please join me in wishing our finalists the best of luck for the competition!
Tune in to Melbourne University’s 3MT Grand Final next Thursday, the 13th of August from 2 – 3:30pm to see them in action. Register to watch here!
– Written by Rosie Arnold