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Postgrads encouraged to enter Three-Minute Thesis

3MT organiser Marise Murrie (third from left) with 2018 participants at the first bootcamp to help contestants prepare

An eye-catching slide, a snappy title and a creative way to tell your research story are among key elements for success in Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) – an international talent quest for scholars with serious prize money. 

Three-Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a fast paced and exciting speech competition that challenges masters and doctoral candidates to summarise the significance of their research project in three minutes for a panel of judges and a diverse audience. The ‘elevator pitch’ approach to talking about complex academic topics helps students gain confidence and sense of clarity in communicating their research – a highly valuable skill for future presentations, conferences and job interviews.

Whether it be cutting-edge science tackling big health or environmental challenges, investigating a pressing social or education issue, exploring a fascinating slice of cultural life or a tricky existential question, organisers are urging postgraduate students to enter, for the many benefits it can bring to a research career. 

Campus heats start in July and a series of boot camps are now underway for keen contestants.

“Communicating your research concisely and simply in a way that a diverse audience can understand is increasingly understood as being intrinsic to research practice,” says Massey’s 3MT organiser Marise Murrie. “It’s exciting to watch the participants develop their presentations on complex topics and then articulating them and taking the audience on a journey through their topic.”

The exposure through the competition can even lead to fostering new connections with research partners, funding bodies and organisations or people interested in the topic, as well as a reputation and profile boost. 

Winners compete, all expenses paid, at the national Masters’ Inter-University competition – this year hosted by the University of Canterbury – on August 23, and to Queensland in September for the Asia-Pacific finals on September 27 for doctoral winners.

3MT bootcamp participants at the Manawatu campus with Auckland campus peers attending via video link

Wisdom from a previous winner

Courtney Davies, last year’s Massey University and national winner for the master’s category, says doing 3MT was “an exciting way to equip me with the skills to communicate my research to people outside of my discipline. It’s a great tool when it comes to writing scholarship applications, publicity and conveying information where you need to be clear and concise about your topic, and make sure your audience is not baffled by jargon. It's also really fun!”

Communicating her research on phage as an alternative treatment in an antibiotic resistant future saw Ms Davies take the national title in the Masters’ Inter-University Challenge – the third Massey University student in a row to win the title since its’ inception in 2015.

A student in the College of Sciences’ Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at the Auckland campus, she outperformed seven other finalists from each of New Zealand’s universities to take out the title for her presentation; Are phage the future?She won $1000 and a $300 JB Hi-Fi voucher, on top of the $1000 prize for in the Massey finals.

She says talking publicly about research she is passionate about was thrilling. “Because it is only three minutes means you are less likely to drift off track and you can keep the audience engaged through the fast pace of it all. I would 100 per cent recommend it to all post graduate students no matter what level of public speaking experience you have – it's good to start somewhere!”

Preparation for the competition forced her to think hard about her research plans and goals. “There was no point telling half a story on the 3MT stage, so it was important for me to really know what I wanted to achieve not only in my presentation, but my overall thesis,” she says,

“Since my win I have used the presentation and public speaking skills I gained across a range of lectures and talks I have given. I often reflect back on some of the startling statistics I incorporated and realise just how important and life changing my research could be, so it is a great motivation to get back in the lab!”

Courtney Davies, last year's Massey winner and national winner of the Master's Inter-University 3MT finals

Top tips 

“Practice, practice, practice! My supervisor [Dr Heather Hendrickson] has a lot of experience in science communication which was an invaluable tool when I needed constructive critique,” Ms Davies says. 

And don’t be afraid to ask for advice from supervisors outside of your core research group if they have the skills to make you think about content you may have missed, she suggests. 

“Because you live your research inside and out, it is always helpful to practice your presentation on people who are not familiar in the area - they might be able to point out words that they do not understand or phrases that need a bit more clarification.

Above all, remember to actually say what it is you are studying, she stresses. “Some of the feedback I received after the national competition in Wellington was that I was one of the few people who described the problem and succinctly spoke about how my research is a solution. Many presenters offered a blurry line between what is going on in society and what they are researching, leaving many confused as to what their projects actually are. 

“Finally, watch past presentations! These can provide insight into body language as well as tone, when to pause and ways to hook in the audience.”

Massey University 3MT Prizes


Winner: $5,000 into a research account (conference or research related expenses), plus travel and accommodation to represent Massey University in the Asia-Pacific 3MT Competition.

Runner Up: $2000 cash

Peoples' Choice $1000 cash 


Winner: $1000; Runner Up: $500; People’s Choice: $250


Thursday, 19 July - 11:00am - 2:00pm (Japan Lecture Theatre)
Friday, 20 July - 11:00am - 2:00pm (Japan Lecture Theatre)


Wednesday, 25 July - 12:00pm - 3:00pm (QB6)


Friday, 27 July - 11:00am - 2:00pm (Executive Seminar Suite)


Wednesday, 15 August, 2018 (Japan Lecture Theatre, Manawatu campus)

For registration details and information sessions to help you prepare, click here.

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