Announcing the launch of the Gwynne-Vaughan PhD Student Medal

The Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS) aims to highlight the activities and successes of our research student community. We are pleased to announce the inaugural Gwynne-Vaughan Medal which will be awarded to a Birkbeck PhD student able to demonstrate the most notable contribution to their field while undertaking their PhD.

The winner will be awarded a £200 prize and a medal at the BGRS Summer party on Monday 1 July 2019 and will also be featured on the BGRS blog.

Eligibility

  • This competition is open to all part time and full time PhD students at Birkbeck
  • Any achievements you include must have taken place while you were registered as a Birkbeck PhD student

Consideration of entries

  • All entries will be considered by the Research Student Sub-Committee (RSSC)

Deadline for entries: Friday 21st June

If you would like to be considered for this prize please submit a completed entry form, including brief student and supervisor statements by the end of Friday 21st June 2019.

Please email your competed form to graduateresearchschool@bbk.ac.uk

Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, CBE, DSc; Birkbeck, University of London

Janette Leaf on the 2019 Three Minute Thesis Competition

Professor Julian Swann, Director of the BGRS presents Janette Leaf (Department of English and Humanities) with the runner up prize for her 3MT talk ‘Locating the Sympathetic Insect’.

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.

Supportive environment

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. 

Birkbeck 3MT Winner Gabriella McGrogan talks about the 2019 competition

Gabriella McGrogan (Department of Criminology) was overall winner of the 2019 Birkbeck 3MT competition for her entry, “Against our Community Standards’- “Outsider” Witnessing of Atrocity and Social Media Censorship”.

Birkbeck doctoral researcher Gabriella McGrogan tells us about taking part in the 2019 Birkbeck 3 Minute Thesis Competition

Trying to figure out how to condense something you’ve been passionately thinking about and shaping over many months, into around the same amount of time you spend brushing your teeth before bed, seems beyond tricky. My supervisor suggested that the Three Minute Thesis competition would be a great opportunity to refine the key points of my project and give me a handy synopsis to roll out at conferences, meetings and in the pub. This seemed worthwhile, if only to avoid the baffled looks my poor friends give me when I’m trying to explain what I do now.

Developing skills

Having worked as a TA in secondary schools in London and Paris, I thought I might have had an advantage in the public speaking stakes. What could be more terrifying than getting 35 teenagers to first, be quiet, and second, listen to you? As it transpires, academic conferences are. Put on by famous institutions and renowned journals, full of ‘grown-up’ academics who have earned themselves the blue tick on Twitter, my first attempt earlier this year was nerve-wracking. The competition was such a brilliant opportunity to develop skills and alleviate imposter syndrome!

Speakers and members of the audience at the 3MT reception

Communicating research

Almost exactly three years ago, I submitted an application to study for Birkbeck’s MSc in Global Criminology. Up until then, I had completed two degrees in Literary and Cultural Studies, but realised that I wanted a change. It’s an understatement to say that the existence of Birkbeck has changed my life for the better. I think the competition, and ensuring my research is accessible and comprehensible to as many people as possible, is a great way to embrace and celebrate the ethos of the college. My research will benefit hugely from the interaction and input of those outside of my discipline and academia in general. Most importantly, I got to engage with students from other departments and learned some fascinating things from their presentations!

I’d strongly encourage any students considering taking part in future to do so. The tips I gained from the training alone were well worth the time spent and I’ve definitely noticed I can explain my project with ease in the aftermath!

Speakers and members of the audience at the 3MT reception

You can read more about the 2019 Birkbeck 3MT Competition here.

2019 Birkbeck 3 Minute Thesis Competition

The BGRS is pleased to announce the 2019 Birkbeck 3 Minute Thesis Competition, which will take place on Thursday 2 May from 6pm. You are invited to mark this date in your diaries!

Birkbeck 3MT: Thursday 2 May 2019

Join a selection of Birkbeck PhD students as they compete to communicate their compelling thesis topics in just three minutes. This event is a fantastic opportunity to share and celebrate the interests and successes of PhD researchers from across the College and we invite all current Birkbeck PhD students to take part. The winner of the Birkbeck competition will be chosen by an expert panel of judges who will award:

  • £500 to the overall winner
  • £250 to the runner up
  • The audience will also have their say by picking a people’s choice winner who’ll win a special prize.

Register to attend

If you would like to join the audience please register here to attend. Following the competition there will be a drinks reception for all attendees.

How to compete

You can read more about what it was like to take part in the 2018 3MT competition in these BGRS blog posts from Cathy Rogers and from winner Keith Jarrett.

All potential competitors for the Birkbeck Three Minute Thesis Competition must attend one of the following training sessions – if you think you would like to compete this year, please do sign up. This training is provided by Birkbeck’s Public Engagement Team and will enhance your presentation skills as well as preparing you for the competition.

This is an international event and the Birkbeck winner will have the opportunity to continue on to the UK semi-finals later in the year.

BGRS Winter Party

BGRS Winter Party

Tuesday 11 December, 18.30 – 20.30

We invite all Birkbeck postgraduate researchers to attend the BGRS Winter Party. Come and celebrate achievements of the Autumn term and meet with other research students from around the college.

Drinks (non-alcoholic as well as alcoholic) and nibbles will be provided but please sign up so that we can order the right amount of catering.

Shut Up and Write: Day Long Retreat

“Shut up and Write! turns writing from a solitary, to a social experience.

The concept is simple: meet up with others in a cafe (hopefully one with plenty of power points), and write. The concept originated in the San Francisco Bay Area, amongst creative writers, but, thanks to social media, has spread amongst research students around the world. The idea is to make the act of writing fun and relaxing” – The Thesis Whisperer

The Graduate Research School is offering Birkbeck research students the chance to take park in a Shut Up and Write Day Long Retreat!

This session is aimed at those who would like to set aside a whole day for writing up. The format will be based on the standard Shut up and Write sessions but provides writing opportunities in both the morning and the afternoon. Tea and coffee and a sandwich lunch will also be offered to those who take part.

Sign up and see event details here!

DATE AND TIME
Wed 12th September
LOCATION
MAL631

Shut Up and Write: Double Day Retreat

“Shut up and Write! turns writing from a solitary, to a social experience.

The concept is simple: meet up with others in a cafe (hopefully one with plenty of power points), and write. The concept originated in the San Francisco Bay Area, amongst creative writers, but, thanks to social media, has spread amongst research students around the world. The idea is to make the act of writing fun and relaxing” – The Thesis Whisperer

The Graduate Research School is offering Birkbeck research students the chance to take park in a Shut Up and Write Double Day Retreat!

Aimed at those who would like to set aside two whole days for writing in the Summer Term, students can attend either or both days. The format will be based on the standard Shut up and Write sessions but provides writing opportunities in both the morning and the afternoon, across two days. Tea and coffee and a sandwich lunch will also be offered to those who take part.

Sign up and see event details here!

DATE AND TIME
Wed, 22 Aug 2018, 10:00 –Thu, 23 Aug 2018, 17:00 BST
LOCATION
MAL630

 

 

The People’s Choice Winners – Three Minute Thesis 2018

Raul Valdivia

Three Questions for Three Minute Thesis

As one of the People’s Choice winners for 2018, how would you describe your experience of the 3MT event?

It was tough! I had practised my speech several times, but once I was in front of the audience I got too nervous and started to forget some bits, so I had to improvise. I guess I wanted to sound calm but passionate about my work at the same time, which is always difficult to get it right. I am glad people in the audience got a clear idea of what my research was about (analysis of photographs taken by slum dwellers in Lima). Overall, the 3MT event was a good experience and very well organised, I can now explain my work in less than three minutes!

Did you submit a poster for the Poster Presentation, if yes/no what did you think of the posters?

Yes, I did. I put lots of effort and creativity into the design of my poster. Coming from the School of Arts, I knew the standard format for posters was not going to suit my needs. The research poster structure is very much based on a cause-effect approach to the study of natural phenomena and social relations. I personally disagree with such positivistic model, even though I have a psychology and sociology background, so I wanted to tell a story in my poster in a way that could give viewers a sense of what it is that I am exploring, my findings so far, and the contribution my study makes to society. I anticipated most poster judges were going to be drawn from disciplines different to mine (visual studies), so I used some of the standard poster sections to keep it within the traditional assessment criteria. Sadly, I did not win, but many people complemented my poster highly, which is always a good indicator and rewarding of course.

 

Would you recommend taking part in 3MT to other PhD students next year?

Absolutely! If anything, it is a good opportunity to think about what you are doing in your research and how to best explain it to people who may not be familiar with your topic. Besides, you could win a good cash prize!

 

Pavni Kohli

When I first heard of the Three-Minute thesis challenge, I had just entered the writing phase of my PhD after an exciting year of field work and was feeling as if I was losing steam. Having presented my research at a conference in the previous few months I realised the exercise was very helpful in refocusing my thoughts. Within this context the 3MT seemed like a much-needed opportunity to step back and regain some clarity and enthusiasm for my research.

The first thing I did was look up the videos of past winners from Birkbeck and other universities. Although it seemed challenging to present three years of work in three minutes, I decided to participate because the PhD students looked like they were having a lot of fun.

Indeed, the whole experience was hugely enjoyable, starting from the training workshop which was also a great learning experience. We learned ways to capture the audiences’ imagination, communicate our ideas quickly and clearly along with breathing and body language techniques. My favourite part was meeting PhD students from other departments and learning about their projects. Their passion and enthusiasm were infectious, to say the least and I felt energised and determined to give my best. The interactive nature of the workshop meant that we could test our presentation styles and get immediate feedback about what worked and what didn’t.

This camaraderie and infectious energy carried onto the evening of the challenge where I was happy to see so many presentations and posters on such a range of fascinating topics. The atmosphere was incredible with an almost full auditorium and a warm, cheerful and sporty audience. I was very nervous but the supportive atmosphere made me feel at ease and my nervousness melted away.

It was an honour to be chosen the people’s choice winner. For me, the three-minute thesis challenge is all about connecting with the audience, communicating my research concisely and clearly and conveying the passion I feel for my work. I felt great satisfaction at achieving these goals and was delighted that the audience voted for me.

I highly recommend participating in the 3MT to other PhD students as its not only a hugely enjoyable experience but is also a tremendously powerful exercise in honing presentation and communication skills and regaining clarity and focus.

 

Raul (Department of Cultures and Languages) and Pavni Department of Geography) took joint place  for the People’s Choice Award this year.

Watch Raul’s talk “Picturing Utopia: Photography against the odds in a Peruvian sunset” here

Watch Pavni’s talk “Looking beyond fear in Delhi: Mapping women’s everyday life” here.

Cathy Rogers: Why I took part in the 3 minute thesis competition

Before doing my PhD, I spent two decades working as a TV producer, with a particular interest in science programming, so over the years I interviewed a lot of scientists. They used to drive me nuts! They would be working on such interesting projects and seeing the world through a completely fresh lens – but they were often just awful at talking about their research, at least in a way anyone could understand. They were unable or unwilling to say anything with certainty, they always insisted more research was needed and in the worst cases they even wore their inability to ‘dumb things down’ as a badge of pride.

So now I am on the other side. In some respects, I can appreciate more viscerally scientists’ stance. As you learn more and more about a subject, you appreciate more and more of its complexities and sometimes you feel you fully understand less and less. Saying things with certainty requires a 100% that science, with its 95% benchmark, will never (or very rarely (see there I am giving the caveat)) meet. But I still believe that if you can’t explain the essence of what you are doing and why you are doing it in a way that anyone interested can understand, then either you don’t understand it yourself, or it isn’t worth doing.

 

To me, that’s what the 3 minute thesis competition is all about. Going back to the big questions of your research – why do you care? Why should anyone else care? And how are you going to go about inching forward knowledge with that bigger picture in mind.

 

Cathy Rogers (Department of Psychological Sciences) was awarded runner-up and a £250 prize for her talk “Freedom and control: how do children achieve their creative goals?”

You can watch her full talk here.