#3MT – What is it?
This year, I participated in the 3 Minute Thesis competition at the Australian National University’s finals. The competition challenges PhD scholars to use only three minutes and one static slide to explain their research to a general audience in a way that shows the broader implications of the work, whilst remaining true to the research. Here is the video:
This post contains some thoughts about my experience of the 3MT competition and some general points that will be useful to anyone considering participating in future years. I will also do a longer post about this, addressing some of the common things I have heard from people skeptical about the competition (and which I thought as well).
How a Body Becomes a Boat
The crux of my argument is that law expands its ability to use force, detain and withhold access to law from people seeking asylum through turning people into boats. Humans are rather sticky things – the rule of law generally protects us (or it should) from arbitrary detention and the loss of our rights. Boats, however, are less sticky and can be framed as legal objects that can be moved anywhere without much of a right to speak and challenge that movement. Boats, after all, cannot speak. They are virtual objects of law – a combination of fears and a particular discourse about sovereignty and the border that casts the boat as a problem that must be removed.
Body –> Boat: The Slide
I wanted to keep the focus on the main message of my talk, so I kept my slide simple. I think this is probably the best strategy because in the limited time frame, with the big ideas you are trying to convey, you really don’t want to be dividing the audience’s attention between a busy slide and your words.
My slide was a photoshop composite I had made, using elements of the Australian government’s No Way advertising campaign. Lines of waves and clouds are repeated and distortions used to emphasise the artificial and constructed nature of the image. Ironically, I had removed the figure of the boat from the image, participating in another act of erasure, but the new text represents the text of law and what it is doing. Peeling back the discourse that uses dramatic images and emotion to sway the public, I hoped to show what was really happening “on the water” when it came to the law.
These are not things that can be conveyed to the audience but I liked that they were there. That’s the thing about the 3MT – whilst there are general tips and methods for doing a successful one that apply to everyone, I needed to find my own take on it that I was comfortable with and happy to convey to the world.
Oh, and just to highlight how hilariously terrible the version of the slide that I went into the college round of the competition with, here is that slide, hastily compiled in 5 minutes:
Things I found valuable:
- Getting to know the fantastic scholarship that is happening across the university.
- Finding that my research spoke to quite a lot of people. It’s been really great being invited to speak to students afterwards and to see their curiosity and connection with the issues raised in my PhD. The 3 minutes was enough to get people aware of and interested in my research so that they wanted to hear more about it afterwards.
- Crafting, editing and re-crafting the speech. It was actually quite hard work to condense the ideas of my thesis into 3 minutes and I went through a few existential crises along the way when I felt like the words weren’t keeping enough with the essence of the research. The skill was in balancing the need to structure a clear narrative, whilst maintaining and communicating the complexity of the issues. I’m really glad I got the chance to practice these skills and to get such great feedback along the way and after the competition from the audience.
- Having A LOT of people view your research. Look, it’s safe to say that even at the most well-attended conference, you’re not going to get 800 people + 18000 on Facebook live watching you speak. It’s not just about the numbers of course (though the number still makes me dizzy). In times of funding cuts and the increasing gap between political and public understanding of the value of research, it’s more important than ever to engage with people about what we do. For my kind of legal theory research to have an impact, it needs to reach the broader community and the competition was a really useful way to start bridging that gap.
- The people, of course! I have heard that in the past, the 3MT can be like the “academic hunger games”. I can say that this was not my experience and credit goes to the ANU Research Training team who organised the competition and my fellow competitors for that. I found a wonderful group of people, each so brilliant and intelligent in their own ways, who were supportive and collegial. This is what a university should feel like.