Why did I go in for it?
I guess what prompted me to go in for the Three Minute Thesis was the sheer challenge of whether I would be able to sum up my research in a short time and in a way that would appeal to a broad audience. Whenever anyone outside my area of specialism asks me what my PhD is all about, I tend to say, ‘insect imagery’ and then try to gauge how much more detail to go into. My hope for this competition was that it would give me a boost to expand upon my two-word ‘insect imagery’ answer without the equivalent of giving a full-blown paper, and I’m pleased that condensing the thesis into a maximum of 180 seconds really did help me concentrate on what’s attention grabbing and interesting in my work. It also revealed a clear trajectory from horror to ecology. I wondered if my supervisor might think I was crazy to compete, but he was happy for me to go for it and that was a nice endorsement in itself.
Anyone who puts themselves forward for the Three Minute Thesis is given a short training session in presentation skills, and I went along to the workshop feeling slightly uncertain whether I would have the confidence to enter the competition. There was absolutely no pressure to take it all the way. A few chose not to, but most of us did follow through and we really enjoyed the experience. During the training as well as on the evening itself everything took place in an incredibly supportive environment. Even though students were competing against each other the overriding feeling was that we were all in the same boat sharing the same nervousness and the same excitement, and so there was lots of mutual help and encouragement.
Presenting a paper free paper
I took my first degree in the 1980s and my return to academia (part time) is a comparatively recent phenomenon. My business career has so far spanned marketing, transport logistics and property legislation, but never involved presenting to a large group of people against the clock. I felt quite exposed talking about a research project designed by me, supported by only one slide and without the benefit of any written prompts. Outside of university I perform with two choirs, so if I’m on a stage I’m fairly used to singing somebody else’s words. Speaking my own words about my own special interest to an audience and panel of judges is a different matter entirely. My thesis is on ‘Locating the Sympathetic Insect’, and I like to think of it as wonderful and weird. The primary focus is on prose literature, whilst also incorporating art and film and entomological science, and I’m absolutely thrilled it was so well received. Before the Three Minute Thesis competition I’d presented at a small number of conferences and had positive feedback, but I’d never done it without holding onto my notes. I now feel I have the unhampered ability to put aside those pieces of paper so I can talk in a more spontaneous and engaging way at future events. And that’s important to me as I am keen for my research to have the best possible impact.
I’ve got the competition to thank for that leap and would encourage any fellow PhD to participate.