Three Minute Thesis: a winner’s story

Taylor & Francis is proud to support Vitae’s Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT®), an event that celebrates the dynamic and exciting work conducted by doctoral researchers across the UK and Europe.

Maddie Long was the winner of the People’s Choice award in the 2016 3MT competition. Watch her winning presentation in the video, then read on to find out how her 3MT journey helped her to handle nerves and why she thinks other early career researchers should consider entering the competition.

Tell us about your research focus and current role

I am a third year PhD student in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. I work with a team of experts in Linguistics and Psychology to tackle questions at the intersection of cognitive ageing, second language acquisition, and pragmatics. One of the main strands of my work focuses on later-life language learning and its effects on cognitive ageing, which I touch upon in my 3MT talk.

What (or who) encouraged you to enter last year’s 3 Minute Thesis competition?

I must admit, before entering the competition, I had some reservations— namely to do with public speaking nerves! I credit my supervisor, Dr Thomas Bak, with encouraging me to sign up and give it my best shot. Even though I was apprehensive at first, what’s unique and truly rewarding about this competition is that it offers you the opportunity to develop skills to manage your fears and present your work in an engaging manner.

Tell us about the process and your experience of the stages

The first stage of the competition was the school heat in which I competed against my peers in Psychology, Philosophy, and Linguistics. My heart was racing as I gave my talk and listened to the excellent presentations from my peers. After that round, I was surprised by two things: first, that despite my nerves, I had managed to make it to the next round, and second, that I genuinely enjoyed the experience.

From there, I tweaked the presentation to make it more appealing and relevant to an audience of all ages and backgrounds, testing it out on friends, family, and acquaintances. I practised the talk in a variety of different settings, which made me feel more comfortable presenting in any type of environment. By the time the UK final came around, I had learned techniques to deal with the pressure of speaking in front of a crowd (with the clock ticking), and had a great time presenting, nerves and all.

Talk us through your presentation and the approach you took to ensure you could communicate your thesis in just 3 minutes (quite a challenge!)

As PhD students, we often look at our research from a detailed, specialist perspective, but this competition asks you to search for the bigger picture. What’s the real-world impact? How does it relate to others? Can I draw upon common experiences we all share to showcase the value of this work?

These were questions I asked myself in preparing the talk. After deciding on the most important aspects of my work, I then tried to consider how to present it to people from any background, in an accessible manner.

If you could tell other doctoral students one thing you gained from entering the 3MT competition, what would it be?

I learned how to summarize my work in a way that’s relevant to others and to engage the audience when giving a talk. These tools are not only vital to researchers disseminating their work to the public, but are transferrable skills useful in any career path you embark on after the PhD.

And one piece of advice for those who are considering entering, or have already entered for this year’s competition?

My advice to those considering entering is to challenge yourself and sign up for the competition; you may end up finding that science communication is both highly enjoyable and rewarding.

For those who have entered the competition, try to have fun with it and let your enthusiasm for the subject reflect in the way you present. Remember that the audience wants to be engaged and your enthusiasm for the topic will make for a captivating presentation.


Madeleine Long is a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. Her research explores the relationship between language and cognition over the lifespan.