Short and sweet research rendition for 3MT contest 


Last year's 3MT doctoral winner Meghan Keck says she was excited to share her research on how mathematical modelling can be used to solve real-world problems.


“Tell me about your thesis” – a request that could prompt a lengthy discourse. But for the 3MT (Three-Minute Thesis) competition, less is more. Postgraduate students are asked to summarise their research and convince judges and a diverse audience of its significance in just 180 seconds.

Now in its 11th year across New Zealand universities, the competition is a great opportunity for students to clarify their thinking around their research, develop public speaking skills and the confidence this brings, as well as experiencing the satisfaction of sharing their knowledge with a wider audience, says Dr Julia Rayner, graduate learning and development facilitator at Massey’s Graduate Research School. She is urging postgraduate students with a fascinating research story to tell to sign up for 3MT before the July 15 closing date for registrations.

The 3MT experience can also help raise the profile of the researcher, forge new academic connections and opportunities and looks good on a curriculum vitae. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun and  there are some generous cash prizes, with the winner of the Massey doctoral final in the running for $5000.

Brevity is not the only quality being judged – the ability to communicate complex facts and obscure ideas clearly and coherently and to deliver your research story in a colourful, creative, captivating way is at the heart of 3MT. You are allowed one single Powerpoint slide as a visual aid.

Massey University’s heats, which lead up to the finals for the international competition on October 4 in Brisbane, start at the end of July, and registrations are now open, says Dr Rayner. She urges Massey’s postgraduate researchers to give it a go – adding that there is plenty of support available on the Massey 3MT webpage, with top tips and preparation guidelines.

Meghan Keck giving her presentation last year on 'cheesy maths', featuring one slide image as permitted under the rules.


Sharing research passion to inspire others

Meghan Keck, from the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, took out the top prize in last year’s Massey final when she wowed the judges with her presentation, Cheesy maths – an engineer’s guide to the transport of salt and whey in cheese. She described her PhD thesis looking to utilise mathematical modelling to improve the consistency of cheese. 

Ms Keck said she had been “very excited” when she won and hoped to raise the profile among young people – especially women – of research opportunities involving mathematical modelling to solve real-world problems. 

Dr Rayner notes that Ms Keck then went on to pitch her research, along with the People’s Choice winner Seer Ikurior, at an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and Talent Central.

Preparing for 3MT 

Massey’s 3MT webpages provide background information and guidelines for preparation, with a section on developing your narrative for a short presentation. Top tips include:

  • Translate your complex ideas into something much simpler. This is not about dumbing down, but gradually developing complex ideas to take the audience on a journey through your topic. This is a difficult but invaluable skill to master. 
  • Ensure you have timed yourself: presentations are limited to three minutes MAXIMUM.
  • Tell the audience what your current research is about, how you are doing it, what you have discovered, why it is an important contribution to knowledge and why the audience should care.
  • Talk about the application of your research; it helps engage the audience.
  • Answer the question: what is the most interesting thing that you have discovered in your research?
  • Show enthusiasm and be passionate about what you do. You are the expert!
  • Present for an intelligent lay audience who are usually pretty smart, but might not know anything about your field. 
  • Avoid the use of technical terms, jargon and specialist knowledge.
  • Practice in front of a mirror or record yourself so you know what you look like when you are delivering your message.
  • Practice in front of people to get feedback and to find out if you speed up when you are nervous.
  • Remember, presentations are to be spoken word (e.g. no poems, raps or songs). 

Massey University 3MT Prizes

Doctoral Winner: $5,000 cash prize , plus travel and accommodation to represent Massey University in the Asia-Pacific 3MT Competition.

Doctoral Runner Up: $2000 cash

Doctoral Peoples' Choice $1000 cash

Masters Winner: $1,000, plus travel and accommodation to represent Massey University in the Inter-University 3MT Competition.

Masters Runner Up: $500 cash

Masters Peoples' Choice $250 cash 

The deadline for registrations is July 15. Campus heats take place on:

July 25 and 26 – 11am: Manawatū campus (Japan Lecture Theatre)

July 31 and August 1 – 12pm: Auckland campus (OR4 Building 102)

August 2 – 11am: Wellington campus (ESS/5B14)

August 14 – Massey University final (Japan Lecture Theatre)

For more information and to register click here. Read more on the origins of the competition.

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