There is one question in particular I dread: What’s your PhD on? It usually follows the other eye-rolling what do you do? I know it should be simpler, much simpler; I know the person asking doesn’t want my life story; I know why colleagues make up answers at random, and I nearly always regret not making something up too, or at least having a more straightforward project.
I’m what’s called an interdisciplinarian, that rare species who doesn’t feel fully at home in one department or another, who can’t remember if he should be using MHRA or Harvard referencing – the two departments are at odds with each other over this – and, worse still, whose practice-led research provokes shouts of You get to write a NOVEL for your PhD?! (Two other impossible questions follow: What’s your novel about? How many words have you written?)
I sign up to the Three Minute Thesis competition mostly because I’ve been challenging myself do things I’m not comfortable with. Explaining Oneness Pentecostalism and its migratory journey from the US via the Caribbean into London, and the subsequent effect on cultural and religious identity in the capital is one such thing. There’s jargon to unpick and I struggle to get to the point.
The point I’m trying to get to now is that it takes effort to communicate succinctly, especially when you’re in the middle of a PhD that completely takes over your life.
In the workshop, all participants are told to create a three-point story of our research. I listen to the fascinating work my colleagues are doing, colleagues who are also passionate, who also want to be able to share their world with wider audiences. I feel proud to be part of this community of student researchers. There are three whose work is so compelling to me – and completely unrelated to mine – that I read further about it. Later, at the competition, I see how they’d developed their stories into presentations, engaging with an audience who want to hear what they do, as much as I do. I was surprised to win, elated.
I hope even more PhD students get involved in the competition next year. I recommend it for everyone, as we all need to be able to present in from of mixed audiences. I’m also looking forward to following the competition, looking at more of the other videos from participants around the world.
Keith (Department of English and Humanities) was named overall winner for his entry, “The migration of meaning: writing a new London Caribbean culture”.
You can watch the full video for his talk here.