How to Succeed in the 3MT Thesis Competition?

When I got an email invitation to participate in the 3-minute thesis competition (3MT) last month, I did not put much attention on that, to be frank. Apart from being busy lately, I felt not confident to compete with all research higher degree students, mainly PhD candidates (and MPhil students), and where some of them are native English speakers.

But when I – and some friends – were asked to join by my supervisor :), we then stepped forward. As I said earlier, I did not set a high expectation on joining this. I know it is one of the most challenging competitions among research students in various Universities. It has been conducted for several times in Australia and New Zealand regions, and now spreading all over the world.

The basic idea for this 3MT thesis competition is that you have to present your research to a non – specialist audience in lay language in 3 minutes. Surely, when you have a lot of things in your research, this is not an easy thing to do. The good thing about this is actually to test whether you can consolidate your ideas and share what you study to an audience that are not familiar with your area.

“Imagine you’re telling your research to your grandmother,” my supervisor once told me and my fellow researchers.

There, I crafted the script using very lay language and kept revising in every practice. I tried to base my performance on the criteria of the competition. As written in the Student Handbook, there are three main criteria to be considered; they are Comprehension, Engagement, and Communication Style. Each of them is further jot down as follows.

1. Comprehension – did the presentation help the audience understand the research?

  • Did the presenter clearly outline the nature and aims of research?
  • Do you know what is significant about this research?
  • Did the presentation follow a logical sequence?

2. Engagement –  did the oration make the audience want to know more?

  • Was the presenter careful not to trivialize or dumb down their research?
  • Did the presenter convey enthusiasm for their work?
  • Did the presenter capture and maintain their audience’s attention?
  • Would I like to know more about the speaker’s research?

3. Communication Style – was the thesis and its significance communicated in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience?

  • Did the speaker use sufficient eye contact and vocal range, maintain a steady pace, and a confident stance? Did the speaker avoid scientific jargon, explain terminology that needed to be used, and provide adequate background information to illustrate points?
  • Did the presenter spend the right amount of time on each element of their presentation – or did they elaborate for too long or were rushed?
  • Did the PowerPoint slide enhance, rather than detract from, their presentation – was it clear, legible, and concise?

Following these criteria, I tried to practice my presentation. The first practice was terrible, I had to admit. Fortunately, I have a very supportive group. It is a group of supervisor-students-researchers that meet fortnightly. We normally discuss specific topics and issues regarding issues, such as education, research, ethics, methodology, e-learning, and our present challenges in doing our theses. It’s indeed a very supportive place to learn from each other and reflect. We’re even becoming more like research fellows that work not only for the present but for the future possibilities. A book section about the group will also be published soon under a book title of “Conducting Research in a Changing and Challenging World – Chapter 28.”  Isn’t it interesting?

This group is also a place to test yourself. The group helped me to improve a lot better. Together with two other presenters, we practiced presenting our 3MT in front of the others. We had like four times of practice. We even had another student not from our group to practice together. My first practice was terrible. It was out of focus and full of hesitations. As you probably can imagine, sometimes it is not easy to tell others not using your native language in a limited time. It also needs punctuation, proper appearance and look, also great confidence.

Ample supportive feedback was provided by the group. Mike, a public speaker who takes a part-time doctorate degree kept on encouraging us.

“Remember, always think that you are better than others because you put yourself forward in this event,” he said.

Apart from practicing, either individually and in the group, we also learned from several video performances of earlier presentations. We selected the ones that represent  best and achievable. Among others, we watched performances of Balarka Banerjee (2010 Winner), Gabriella Briggs (2nd 2010 Winner) and Tina Wu (UQ 2010 Winner). I myself added to watch my fellow Balinese – Indonesian researcher, Bli Made Andi Arsana‘s video as a motivational inspiration to me. I also found the 2011 presentations. To ease you, I embed all those videos after the writing.

From time to time, I had to revise the script. Consequently, I had to practice the revision, again and again, using stopwatch. After four times of group practice, the 3MT day came.


On Friday, July 13, 2012, I came to my office and kept practicing. Fifteen minutes before the event, my Saudi friend knocked on my office door. He looked so smart, in a fine suit. I myself, just wore Batik shirt – an Indonesian traditional fabric covered in a suit.

“Are you ready?” Majed, my Saudi friend, asked.

“I don’t know brother, I am still practicing,” I said. “I’ll meet you in 5 minutes, down there, alright?”

After 5 minutes, I went down to the venue. This event was on the Faculty level. I was a bit tensed to know that I was the second to present, from 11 participants in total. Most of the presenters are from the main campus, but there are some others from branch campuses. They have to travel around 2 or 4 hours to this city then. So proud of their enthusiasm.

The panel judges consisted of professors. Some other students came to support. The room was full. Then, the time to present for all participants began.

Cham, my Vietnamese friend started. She began smoothly. I was getting a bit tensed 🙂 but I just need to do my best. My turn then came. Natasha announced my name, my topic and title. I came forward and stood up on the left side of the slide projection. When the time keeper’s ready, I started, “Imagine, there are 40 students in a small classroom learning English while passively listening to the teacher’s dominant talks. What do you think?”

With this opening sentence, I then continued to talk about English classrooms in Bali and how to cope with problems that arose in that context. Everything went smoothly when in the middle of my talk, I got several pauses! I tried to keep going and smiled.

Here’s my recorded 3MT presentation. As it did not use the microphone, I hope it would be clear to watch and listen.

I then finished my presentation in 2:45 minutes, which was good as, according to the rule, I would be disqualified when it is more than 3 minutes.

My talk ended. I got back to my seat. There, other presenters came forward – my Saudi, Australian Vietnamese and Malaysian friends. I just realized, I am the only one from Indonesia!

After all presentations were completed, we’re all asked to stay outside. The judges, together with the supporters discussed the most favorite presenter – in People’s Choice Award. After 15 minutes, the presenters came in and it’s time to announce the winners. To note, only the 1st winner will proceed to the next level.

I felt, because I had several pauses, and to compare to others, I did not present my best.

Then, Prof. Noel Gough, the head of the three judges, came forward while telling us the competition and judging processes. He continued to firstly announce the second winner.

“The second winner goes to Colin!” Colin is a native English speaker who performed very well just now according to my opinion.

Everyone gave a big applause as he stood up.

“Now, the first winner is….. ” I’ve got a feeling that this would go to Hanaa, my Saudi research fellow. But then….

“… Made!” “Made Hery Santosa,” Prof. Noel Gough added.

I was surprised. Because I never realized it was me that he meant. He pronounced my first name, Made /mʌdi/. In fact, one of the attendee’s names is Mahdi, which is pronounced a bit similar to /mʌdi/. Just when he added my last name, then I came to understand that it was me who was appointed as the 1st winner of this 3MT in my faculty.

Noel also continued to announce the People’s Choice Winner which eventually went to Hanaa, my fellow researcher in the group.

Here are two photos after the announcement.

3MT Winners in the Faculty of Education – From left to right: 2nd Winner, People’s Choice, 1st Winner
From left to right: Judges (Prof. Margaret Robertson, Assoc. Prof. Marion Milton, Prof. Noel Gough) and 3MT winners

Yes, I was happy even though it was actually out of my expectation as other presenters were very good, and some were native speakers. I was thankful for this for sure. Everyone congratulated me. My supervisor was happy and my friends in my research group smiled.

“I knew it, Hery,” Mike said. Your performance is bagus (good),” he gladly used Indonesian as he knows a little of it.

“Thank you, Mike,” I said to him. “Thanks for your supportive feedback.”

One by one, all my friends shook my hands and said good luck. We had a photo session afterwards.

However, this is not the end of everything. The 3MT is still a long way to go. You can see the progression in the diagram below.

3MT Progression

I will always need to prepare for the next level in the University. I know it will be more challenging. As it is also a life learning, this 3MT might add a challenging adventure for my academic experience.

So what are the keys to succeed in the 3MT Thesis Competition? I would say four; they are having more practices (individually and get an audience), watch the best performances as models, open to feedback, and more practices again and again.

However, I should note that this is a personal experience. Others may have different ways. I myself will always  need to learn other successful ways to perform better in the next level. Even though I won’t succeed, this experience is very important for self professional development. So, when you decide to join, I hope you perform at your best and be the winner!

Still, after watching my performance, I’d be happy if you could give me some feedback for my next performance at the University level. Thank you.

P.S. Read my story for the University Final level here.

Here are selected good video examples of 3MT Thesis Competition in 2010 and 2011.

Mathew Thompson (2011 Winner)

Suzie Ferrie (2nd 2011 Winner)

Jack Rivers (People’s Choice)

Balarka Banerjee (2010 Winner)

Gabriella Briggs (2nd 2010 Winner)

Tina Wu (2010 Winner in the University of Queensland)

Andi Arsana (2010 3MT Presenter from Wollonggong University)

All finalists’ presentations of the 2011 3MT Thesis Competition are available here. The Student Handbook of 3MT Thesis Competition can be downloaded Student Handbook here.

©mhsantosa (2012)
I am happy to share this. Please feel free to reblog or share the link, all with my accreditation. Thank you.

12 thoughts on “How to Succeed in the 3MT Thesis Competition?

  1. Wira says:

    Wow,,, I was seriously watching your presentation Pak Herry. It Attracted my attention a lot. I think by attracting audiences’ attention, you will be a winner for the next battle. “Hehehehe merinding bulu kalong tyange mebalih videone HEBAAAAAT”

    1. Made Hery Santosa says:

      Thank you Mas Subhan! Yes, and that time you were the best one! I learned a lot from you, too
      Cheers ^^

    1. Made Hery Santosa says:

      Suksma Bli. You did a great job as well. That’s why I got inspired!
      Let our academic journeys be a part of story for others, then.
      Cheers ^^

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