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Three Minute Thesis

What is the 3MT?

3MT, or Three Minute Thesis, is a competition that provides doctoral students an opportunity to present their research to general audiences in three minutes with a single static PowerPoint slide.

Who is eligible to participate?

All current UVA doctoral students who have passed their qualifying exams are eligible to enter the 3MT competition.

When and where is the 3MT?

The annual competition takes place in early spring on the Grounds at UVA.  

How does the competition work?

The event takes place in two rounds. In the preliminary rounds, students present their 3MT to a panel of local judges from UVA. Each presentation is scored on the 3MT criteria. The top scored presentations from the preliminary round advance to the Final round. Finalists present their 3MT before a panel of judges from the Charlottesville community. 

How do I enter?

Registration opens in February or March of each year. 

How will my presentation be judged? What are the criteria?

Presentations that do not meet the above specified rules will be excluded from competition. Each eligible competitor’s presentation will be judged using the criteria listed below. Each criterion is equally weighted.

Comprehension and Content

  • Did the presentation help the audience understand the research question being addressed and its significance?
  • Did the presentation clearly describe the key results of the research including conclusions and outcomes?
  • Did the presentation follow a clear and logical sequence?
  • Was the thesis topic, key results, and research significance and outcomes communicated in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience?
  • Did the speaker avoid scientific jargon, explain terminology and provide adequate background information to illustrate points?
  • Did the presenter spend adequate time on each element of their presentation - or did they elaborate for too long on one aspect or was the presentation rushed?

Engagement and Communication

  • Did the oration make the audience want to know more?
  • Was the presenter careful not to trivialize or over-generalize their research?
  • Did the presenter convey enthusiasm for their research?
  • Did the presenter capture and maintain their audience's attention?
  • Did the speaker have sufficient stage presence, eye contact and vocal range; maintain a steady pace, and have a confident stance?
  • Did the PowerPoint slide enhance the presentation - was it clear, legible, and concise?

What can I gain from participating?

3MT participants consistently cite the event as directly responsible for helping them develop the abilities to communicate clearly and succinctly, and to engage both their field of research as well as the general public.  

UVA's 2018 winner Charlie Clark (5th year, Chemistry) shares: "Distilling several years worth of work into 3 carefully curated minutes made me appreciate the importance of precise language, and the experience of competing and receiving feedback has made me more comfortable speaking about my research."

2016 Finalist James Ascher, (6th year, English) states: "I'd say the 3MT experience, coming when it did, on my academic journey has helped me to think about how everything we do must communicate with other people.  We cannot merely do good work on our own, but must make sure to do that work in a way that other people find interesting, engaging, and comprehensible. Research without communication isn't really anything at all."

Are there any prizes?

Students who advance to the UVA Live 3MT Final will compete for the following prizes to be awarded by a panel of judges:

  • $1000 for the first place winner
  • $750 for the second place winner
  • $500 for the third place winner
  • $500 for the audience choice winner

How should I prepare?

Preparation for a winning 3MT presentation is an investment of time and energy. One estimate suggests that for those three minutes, you should spend 30 hours preparing. While that sounds like a lot, if you spread it over a few weeks, it does not have to be overwhelming. And remember, the 3MT is one event. You will likely use this presentation or a version of it in other circumstances such as a job interview. Think about it as investment in your future!  

We recommend you develop a timeline with the following activities. 

Step 1: Organize your content keeping your audience in mind. Prepare an outline of your script. At this point in the process, the 3-minute restriction is not critical, though you do want to be in the 5-7 minute range.  

Step 2: Test this presentation on a friend not in your field. Ask them to confirm that you are avoiding jargon and explaining technical concepts. Are there any leaps in your story? If you are using an analogy, is it effective for them? What ideas do they have to make it stronger?

Step 3: Incorporate friend's feedback and refine the talk. If you are over the 3 minutes, reflect on how you can manage that. Do you need to speak faster? (Probably not.) Do you need to cut content? (Maybe.) Develop a slide to accompany your talk. 

Step 4: Test this presentation on a different friend/s not in your field. Use a timer. Invite their feedback on your content and your slide. Ask them about your physical presence and your vocal quality. Did you look them in the eye? Did you fidget? Did you talk too fast? Did you say "um" a lot? 

Step 5: Incorporate any additional feedback into the presentation content. Revise your slide. Start working on your body language, vocal quality, and timing. 

Step 6: Test this almost-final version with the original friend. Your script should be very polished by now and you should have it mostly memorized. Your friend should be impressed at your progress. Consider any further revisions and begin to lock in your final version.

Step 7:  Confirm your final version and your final slide. 

Are there other resources to help prepare?

The Office of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs will offer the following preparatory sessions (locations TBD): 

Prep session 1: Crafting your talk

Prep session 2: Designing your slide

Prep session 3: Mastering your physical presence

Prep session 4: Dry run/practice session

Early March: Optional practice sessions