On Winning the 3-Minute Thesis Competition



Ben Miele, Assistant Professor of English at University of the Incarnate Word, won the University of Iowa 3-Minute Thesis competition in 2015. Ben will be a guest participant in the UI Next Gen PhD Elevator Pitch/3-Minute Thesis symposium (Nov. 18, 12-1, Main Library 2032).  He allowed us to republish a blog post he wrote just after he completed his PhD in English last year. Ben’s twitter handle is @HarpocratesJr.

I am using this opportunity not only to brag about finishing grad school but also to brag about winning the University of Iowa’s inaugural 3MT®Competition. What is it? According to Iowa’s website for the competition, 3MT is “an academic competition developed by The University of Queensland, Australia. In this competition students share their dissertation research with a general audience in an oral presentation lasting at most … three minutes. Begun in 2008, the competition has grown to include more than 125 universities worldwide, including 45 in the United States.”

Distilling a dissertation down to three minutes is challenging but doable—and valuable. The emphasis is on clarity and concision, cornerstones of those ever-important communication skills, and so it helps students in any discipline, primarily because they can practice explaining an involved and arcane research project to an audience that is not in the field. But even those “in the field” are not experts on the particular topic of each and every dissertation. My dissertation was about surveillance and reading, and few researchers of early modern English literature are experts on Renaissance surveillance practices. So the 3MT can help with the thesis defense, the elevator pitch, and the job interview—as well as with the justification of the English PhD to inquisitorial relatives at Thanksgiving.

If students start planning to do it early enough, the 3MT can even help them hone their arguments at the prospectus stage. The 3MT asks students to explain how they arrived at their research, what new discoveries they made, and why it matters—all in just three minutes. Prospectuses, ideally, also aim to situate one’s research in a larger conversation, explain one’s unique contribution, and show why a research finding is important. I think the 3MT model could even help in the creation of a prospectus.

Going through the 3MT process can make one more competitive when applying for scholarships, fellowships, and grants. It encourages students to think about how to appeal to a broader audience—something that, unfortunately, is often not considered until late in the writing process. if preparation for the competition is started early enough, the 3MT can make the thesis better. In any event, or as in my case, it can make the explanation of the thesis better. And if the competition takes place at an amazing place like the University of Iowa, one can get a short, user-friendly video about one’s research, great for showcasing on one’s web site.

Check out my three-minute presentation, which garnered me a first-place prize and a People’s Choice award—not thePeople’s Choice©, ®, , etc. award, but an award nonetheless.

One thought on “On Winning the 3-Minute Thesis Competition”

  1. graduate students should certainly be well informed about the various tasks they will have to undertake to complete their educations and to compete in the job market, such that their dissertation isn’t their first book for themselves but their last writing assignment for faculty, that the people who runs grants have agendas they are seeking to further, and that departments are looking in interviews for people that they can work well with and who can carry their share of the workload, and hopefully students will also be outfitted with the skills (as is being worked out in this very series) needed to negotiate these situations.
    But it would be a tragic irony if the faculty who voted no-confidence in a leader they feared would seek to turn their institution into a copy of (if not an instrument of) a for profit corporation trained their graduate students to be entrepreneurs seeking to sell products to purveyors of goods and or selling the attention of consumers (as in students). As Judith mentioned the particular subjects (not disciplines) of study (and related work products; books, etc) valued by many (most?) academics in the humanities are not likely (no matter the spin/sales-pitch/hype) to be valued commodities on the open market (or in state-houses/legislatures) so we need new ways of thinking of, doing, and promoting the work that is in keeping with the values that undergird the enlightenment project and not feed into the current trends of the salesman (who is willing to game the system) winning over modes and means of democratic liberalism (the liberal-ars, if you will), good conversation as always, ever onward.

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