Andria presenting at the 3MT

In early 2017, a colleague encouraged me to sign up for the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) at the University of Waterloo. I was told that the 3MT is a competition where graduate students present a memorized script about their research in three minutes or less to a non-specialist audience.

To be entirely transparent, my immediate internal reaction to this suggestion was “No!”, and I had a few reasons to honour this initial response: (1) I was not a fan of public speaking; (2) I needed to focus on writing my dissertation; and (3) I was unaware of any potential benefits or opportunities that the 3MT could lead to. So, my decision was made up- I would not participate.

A few days later, however, I found myself contemplating this decision. My dissertation focuses on the ethics of sexual consent and people with dementia, and like most graduate students, my research matters to me. Also, similar to many scholars, I believe that academic researchers have a responsibility to disseminate their research to the public, especially if it may be relevant to non-academic domains.

Suddenly, the 3MT sounded like a good opportunity. After (reluctantly) signing up, I immediately began drafting my presentation. I sent this draft to some folks in academia, and also to friends and family members since it would be presented to a public audience.

Fast-forward a few weeks and I was ready to compete in the Faculty of Arts heat. As expected, I was incredibly nervous.  In order to cope with my nerves, I energetically chatted with the other presenters. This ended up being one of the best parts of the 3MT- I met some incredible people from across the university who I probably wouldn't have met otherwise! Also, watching and participating in the 3MT allowed me to learn about some of the amazing research being done by our graduate students.

The presenters in the Faculty of Arts heat were wonderful and the audience was supportive. I won the Faculty heat and advanced to the next stage of the competition. Competing in the University finals was a different experience, involving bright lights and cameras and a stage (oh my!). Thankfully, everyone was given the opportunity to practice in this setting prior to the competition.

Much to my surprise, I was the Runner up of the University finals, and while the financial compensation was appreciated (I am a graduate student, after all!), the aftermath of this experience was even better.

Andria headshotA couple of days after the 3MT, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) asked me to do an interview. The on-air interview allowed me to effectively disseminate my research to the public, and the corresponding article was widely shared, leading to some valuable interactions with members of the public. Since this time, I have been invited to present aspects of my work at different forums, my public speaking skills have improved, I feel confident in my ability to describe my work in an accessible manner, and I know how to engage with the media. The 3MT was a life-altering experience in many ways.

I would highly encourage any and all graduate students to compete in the 3MT. Although it can, indeed, be a nerve-wracking experience, I am confident that at least one positive consequence will result from participating, and maybe more...

Andria Bianchi is a PhD Candidate in Philosophy. Her research considers the ethics of sexual consent and people with dementia.

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