Winner reveals secrets behind three minute thesis triumph

Winner reveals secrets behind three minute thesis triumph

Jozica Kutin will represent RMIT University at the national final of the 3 Minute Thesis later this month. Here she tells us why less is more when explaining research.

Presenting my ​research at 3MT was like...

No other type of presentation I have ever done before.

In the spirit of brevity, tell me in one sentence what you are researching?

How financial abuse manifests in young adult intimate relationships.

How hard was it to squeeze your research into three minutes?​ ​How much preparation did you do?

In the end I wrote about 15 drafts. The key was trying to get the essence of what I’m doing and what I’ve found without the technical jargon. Every word was scrutinised: does that add anything? Is that confusing? Is it in the right order? Did I already say that?

​Did you make your whole network/friends/family listen to your presentation ​until they were sick of you?

My yearly weekend away with friends fell a few weeks before the final so I had a very captive audience. Presenting to my friends and family was the best strategy – if I didn’t make sense, they just told me.

Even the discussions afterwards helped me sharpen my message. Workshops and guidance by Margaret Heffernan were also invaluable.

I also practiced in front of my supervisors (Roslyn Russell and Mike Reid), other academic staff and PhD students. I recited it to my kids. I mumbled it to myself on the bus. I listened to an audio recording of myself. I rewrote the script from memory.

I must say, I have never prepared and practised so much for anything before. They were all sick of me by the end; I was even sick of me.

Did you talk really fast?​ Or is that considered cheating?  ​

I had the opposite problem. My natural speech speed is quite fast (I think) but when I started to practise my presentation I was suddenly too slow and stilted! I had sentences earmarked for dropping if I saw I was running out of time.

I think if you rush it will be too obvious and your presentation will suffer. The audience will focus on “oh she’s rushing” and not on what you are saying.  

After all that academic writing, how hard was it to put your serious ​work into plain language?

It’s a challenge. But it’s what we need to do to get our research out there. I had written an article for The Conversation so that was the start of that process. Then there were media interviews and presentations at finance-related industry groups, and one at the Yea Probus meeting.

These presentations really forced me to get to the point quickly and in plain language.

Why is plain language important, do you think?​ How has the experience helped you?​

It’s the only way to engage people in your topic outside your PhD group (that is you and your supervisors). People don’t have 20 minutes to hear all the details. They want to know the point of it all, and how it relates to the world, and maybe even their own world.

They don’t really want to know if you triangulated the data (that was in one of my early scripts) or used a logistic regression. If you’ve engaged them with your brief version, they’ll ask you more questions. That’s when you know you’ve captured their interest.

The 3MT has helped me to better refine my answers about my PhD: I can describe my methods in 13 seconds. I was part of a panel when the ANZ launched their guide on financial abuse, and in responding to questions, I heard myself repeating bits of my 3MT speech. It’s a part of me now!

Was this your first attempt at the competition?

Yes it was, but I watched and supported my fellow PhD students last year. I went to Margaret Heffernan’s presentation skills workshop at the HDR conference and the RMIT School of Graduate Research held a specific 3MT information session.

What are the top three things you learned that you could pass on to others?

Expect nerves – so know how to deal with them, and use the energy.

Practise in front of people from all walks of life (get lots of feedback). Also, try to rehearse in the actual location.

Test your one allowed slide in the location and with a variety of people. Everyone will have a different reaction.

It’s the only way to engage people in your topic outside your PhD group (that is you and your supervisors). People don’t have 20 minutes to hear all the details.

Are you looking forward to the national competition?​ ​

Yes I am. I can’t wait to hear the other participants and visit University of Queensland. Even though it’s a competition, here at RMIT everyone was so collegiate and I expect that to be the same at the finals. Everyone who enters at every level should be really proud of themselves, it’s a challenge, but it has so many lasting benefits.

Have you always been a confident public speaker?

I have been involved in research since I completed my undergraduate (degree), so I have presented at a lot of conferences and I’ve also done some lecturing. But 3MT was different.

I was super nervous, even when I practised in front of my supervisors. Was it the timer counting down? Was it the competition factor? Was it the pressure of being able to remember it all?

I’d never been so nervous at any other presentation before!

During the final, one of my legs started trembling so much I had to shift my weight to stop it from taking off on its own.

​Anything else we should know about you?

Have you got more than three minutes? I’ve got three teenage children. I do a lot of exercise to keep fit but also to maintain my sanity and to enjoy time with my friends and kids – so my “spare time” usually involves running, hiking and mountain biking (I like challenges).

Anything else we should know about the competition?

Every PhD student should enter their college semi-final. Its good practise, as it will help your abstract writing skills, your milestone presentations, your conference presentations and any media or non-research presentations that you will and should do. There are also a lot of 3MT videos online. These are good to watch and learn from, but don’t forget your own style, your own story, and who you are. 

The 2017 3MT Final is at University of Queensland on 13 September.

Interview by: Jane Kenrick 

06 September 2017

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06 September 2017

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