3 Minute Thesis 2016

Guest Blog Post: Chen Zhao, 3 Minute Thesis Winner 2015

Are you thinking of entering the 3 Minute Thesis Competition?  See our guest blog post from Chen Zhao, winner of the 2015 competition on her IMG_8291experience of the competition:

394—the word count of my 3MT. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?

This all started two years ago when I read the news that Chris West, a colleague from the Sottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM), had won the university final. That was the first time I had heard of this competition, and I thought one day I might enter it. I’m so glad that I did!

Some people may think that 3MT is just for those who are good at public speaking. I want to say it’s NOT the case! Take me for example. English is not my first language, and after 4 years of study in the UK I still fear to talk to native speakers. I’m always concerned that they must be judging every single word coming out of my mouth—whether the grammar or pronunciation is correct. Whenever I need to do a presentation, I have to write a script, memorise every word and practise for several times until it sounds like there hasn’t been a script. I’m also very shy when talking to strangers. At networking events, I never introduce myself to others, but always wait to be introduced. So if a person like me can do it, you will definitely be able to deliver a good 3MT, as long as you dare to challenge yourself! “Take the challenge” was the sole reason why I entered the competition, as this is the only way, I believe, to beat my weaknesses and make improvements.

After handing in the form for entering, all you need to do is to practise, practise and practise! This is not a boring process, but actually was of great fun to me! The opening sentence of my 3MT was “I’m dying and fast”, which is a quote from a patient with motor neurone disease. I practised this sentence hundreds of times, trying different tones and ways of stressing, even when I was walking on the street. You could imagine how many people had been staring at me and worried that I might be crazy… I also presented my 3MT to colleagues and friends for several times to ask for feedback. One colleague joked with me when he heard my 3MT for the second time—“Chen, last time you said that you were about to die. Why are you still here?? You were lying!!”

Was I nervous when I presented at the competition? Of course! At the college heat, I was literally shivering, and presented extremely fast, finishing 20 seconds less than my usual speed during preparation. At the last week before the university final, I couldn’t fall asleep, as I kept thinking what I would be like if I stumbled during the competition. Thankfully, I found solutions to such stress—a run around The Meadows and Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about how power posing can shape people’s minds. These really helped me to PRETEND being confident at the university final.

Having finished the competition and reflected on my experience, I realise how much I’ve benefited from 3MT. Before entering the competition, I had just come out of my second-year blues, and stepped into my third-year blues… However, preparing 3MT forced me to take one step back from my daily detailed experiments to look at the big picture. It helped me to regain my motivation for doing research, because the importance of my project was exactly why I joined the group and started a PhD. After the university final, one girl came to me and said “I’ve learnt a lot from your presentation, much more than a 1-week course in neuroscience I once took.” This was really encouraging to me!

Since the competition, I’ve had several opportunities to give talks to big audiences, such as the Senate meeting, Postgraduate Inductions and the SCRM retreat. These experiences have made me less and less nervous about public speaking and more confident in communications. 3MT has also made me realise my great interest in education, and helped me to secure an intern placement which requires good communication skills. These will for sure be beneficial for my future career development.

So, give it a try! You won’t regret!

You can find out more about the competition here

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