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3MT® and me

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3MT® - stopwatch image

DECIPHer PhD student Bethan Pell reflects on her experience of taking part in the
Three Minute Thesis ( 3MT®) competition, where she presented on her research into Child to
Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA). Spoiler alert – she won!

Out of my comfort zone

3MT® is a competition, where PhD students from across the university are challenged to present their PhD in just 3 minutes, using just one slide! To make this even trickier, you have to concisely communicate your PhD to a lay, non-academic audience. This means the audience wouldn’t have a foundational understanding of our fields, so no complex language or jargon allowed! You are also not permitted to go over three minutes – they time you, and if you go over that’s it, you are disqualified from the competition. Scary, right?!

There were a few things that motivated me to enter the competition, however. The incentive of £20 (which all participants taking part received) did, I must admit, initially lure me in (I must have been feeling particularly broke that day!). However, my main motivation was the challenge. I’d presented a couple of times at conferences and to various research groups but had never participated in anything like this before and felt this would take me out of my comfort zone. I also thought this would give me the opportunity to develop a unique skill of communicating the impact of my research, in a digestible, emotive way, to a non-academic, lay audience – crucial skills when it comes to translating research for policy and practice changes.

My PhD, condensed…

My subject is broadly family violence and abuse, but more specifically Child to Parent Violence and Abuse (or CAPVA). It’s an area that’s been rather overlooked in research, particularly in comparison to other forms of family violence and abuse, such as domestic violence and abuse, or child abuse. The lack of research means we have limited understanding, policy frameworks and current intervention for how to address and respond to CAPVA. This has devastating implications for families, who are in desperate need of support and intervention. However, the first crucial step to developing interventions is to have a theoretical understanding of the problem, and we don’t currently have this for CAPVA. 

I felt incredibly nervous on the day, so much so that I missed my bus because I was going over it in my head!

My PhD aims to address this gap by developing our theoretical understanding as a critical first step, to inform and develop interventions that appropriately address and respond to this complex phenomenon.

All in the prep (and practice)

The Doctoral Academy, who organise the Cardiff University event, were invaluable in preparing for 3MT®. They gave lots of practical hints and tips for how to prepare. They recommended writing a story-like narrative, with a clear beginning, middle and end that highlighted both the importance and the desired impact of our research. They suggested using an initial ‘hook’, a catchy opener that would capture the audience and draw them into our talks. They also gave us the judges’ criteria, so we knew what they would be looking for on the day and we were given access to last year’s talks, to give us some inspiration.

Finally, we had the opportunity to attend a feedback session with our fellow participants. I found this the most helpful and think this was actually pivotal to my success – I don’t think my presentation would have been half as good without the support and feedback from the 3MT® coordinator and my fellow peers. I came away from the session knowing I had to improve my ‘hook’ and communicate the impact of my research. I then spent a lot of time (and I mean a lot of time) refining this! When I thought I’d finally nailed my script, I practiced over and over and over, to family, friends and peers.

Why am I doing this again?!

I felt incredibly nervous on the day, so much so that I missed my bus to the competition because I was going over it in my head – however, I think the extra steps to the office helped my nerves so this wasn’t altogether a bad thing. A few people knew, such as my supervisors and some peers and they wished me luck, but I mostly kept it quiet!  

There were many times during the preparation stage where my initial motivations for entering became a bit of a distant memory and I wondered what had possessed me

Distilling an entire thesis into a 3MT® presentation initially felt impossible. CAPVA is a really complex, sensitive and emotive topic to talk about and I wanted to do it justice. I know why my topic is important, I know why my research is needed and I know what impact I want it to have – but getting that across in three short minutes to a lay audience was hard, to say the least. It took me a while to refine my talk to a point where I felt it made sense, told a story and communicated impact.

I also felt incredibly anxious about it; there were many times during the preparation stage where my initial motivations for entering became a bit of a distant memory and I wondered what had possessed me to open myself up to this kind of vulnerability. But I had lots of support around me and people reminding me of the sense of achievement and satisfaction I would feel afterwards.

Bethan with Lawrie Smith, Cardiff’s 2022 winner, and one of this year’s judges

And the winner is…

The event itself was amazing. It was incredible to see all my fellow PhD students present. I felt inspired by all of them and the exceptional research that they were all undertaking. I actually couldn’t believe I’d won, it was such a shock but I was utterly delighted – can you tell by my big cheesy grin in the photo? There were so many good presentations, so I felt very lucky and am excited to spend the £250 prize – I’m thinking something lavish that I wouldn’t ordinarily buy myself to celebrate, maybe some designer sunglasses?!

The main lesson I’ve taken from this experience is that sometimes you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone – you never know what you might be capable of achieving unless you put yourself out there.

The presentation recording will be included in the national semi-finals hosted by Vitae during July and August. The six finalists will be announced by 20 August – wish me luck!

Bethan’s presentation will be available to watch soon – watch this space. Read more about her work here: Miss Bethan Pell – People – Cardiff University.

More about the Vitae Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition can be found here: Vitae Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition — Vitae Website

Read a previous blog by Emily Lowthian on her 3MT® experience: The Magic Number.