180 seconds… does that seem like a short amount of time? Surely, not when you compulsively check your phone for yet another short gratification message, photo, or gif. Or even compared to 3 or 5 years of PhD studies! But even three minutes can be used wisely.
Imagine if a long process of research was to be shortened in such a meaningful way that it would make a very complex topic actually interesting AND, on some level, understandable to non-specialists? Leaving you with a sense of lasting contentment while being also academically significant to specialists?
Three minute PhD or thesis
On September 29 in Rabat, Morocco, the French language version of ‘my PhD (or my thesis) in 180 seconds’ gathered doctoral students from 10 countries… mixing various French accents and communicating a sense of passion on various complex topics. This competition first set up by the Australian University of Queensland in 2008 and developed in French in Québec from 2012, with national finals preceding the yearly worldwide contest.
Should a PhD viva be long? Probably… The three minute PhD does not break the rules of this convention, only adds a cherry on the cake of a long research project !
The idea is for a jury of academics and also journalists and businesspeople to assess the conciseness and clarity of a presentation on a whole PhD topic while the participant is only allowed one slide to back his speech up visually. The presentation must be compelling enough to captivate the audience as attendees also get to rate the candidates for the audience prize. An English language version of the competition is also organised in Canada by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies, which is also open to master’s students. In many involved universities, such as the Swiss Ecole Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, a training ahead of the competition is provided, and ECTS credits can even be earned through participation in it. In France, the competitions are organised by the CNRS research agency.
The 2016 winner of the French language 3 minute thesis is from the University of Fribourg. Désirée König studies zebrafish, a species with exceptional regenerative capabilities. Next on the podium were also scientific topics, which all sound crucial to tomorrow’s society, such as Alzheimer disease and agricultural productivity.
According to Rachida Brahim from Aix-Marseille University in France who presented her sociological research on racist crime, it is a unique opportunity for young researchers to speak in a full lecture theatre as intricate topics generally only gather interest from a small group of like-minded specialists. Some participants have also expressed their appreciation of the exchanges that stem from conversation with PhD candidates beyond their field or even subject.
Another example is found from the University of Geneva, in the field of psychology. Ecological behaviour and habits can vary depending on whether they are encouraged by negative or positive comments, with negative comments usually taken as an excuse to give up, whilst those who are encouraged to continue riding their bike are expected to persevere more:
Not only are the topics fascinating, participating in the competition can also be a boost to for doctors to gain access to postdocs… On the audience side, might be slightly easier to follow than attending your best friend’s PhD viva! (though a PhD defence arguably has some aura of its own and might be best suited for those who crave for more detail or to hear how the PhD candidate will answer the jury’s questions).
In the meantime, if you are considering applying for PhDs, you can search Study Advisory’s doctorate degree level search. And if you are in the process of writing your PhD, or have finished it, why not be generous to future scholars and rate the university where YOU completed your doctoral thesis?
For more information on Ma thèse in 180 seconds, you can like them on Facebook. For examples in English, you can check the University of Bristol’s website, the University of Edinburgh’s tips (and feel free to rate them too here and there) and for a list of participating schools in Asia-Pacific and Oceania, this link might be handy.