The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Preparation Guide

What is the Three Minute Thesis competition?

The 3MT is an academic competition that helps graduate students clarify and explain their research to others in a fun and collegial way. It began in 2008 at the University of Queensland in Australia and has spread to universities all over the world. There are strict rules including a three-minute time limit, visuals in the form of a single slide with no animations or transitions, no additional electronic media, and no props or costumes.   RIDRU’s 3MT focuses on research related to reforms in Ukraine and allows participants 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

Why should you do it?

Preparing for and doing a 3MT presentation has many benefits.  It will help you:

  • crystallize, consolidate, and clarify your thesis topic
  • relate your research to reforms in Ukraine
  • share your research with the public
  • connect your research to the larger world (Answer: “why does this research matter?” )
  • network with others in your field
  • boost your enthusiasm and sense of purpose about your research
  • improve your writing, pronunciation, and presentation skills in English
  • increase your confidence as a thinker, researcher, and speaker in English
  • describe and argue for your research in grant applications, research proposals, and cover letters for jobs
  • add to your CV

Also, if you win: travel, cash, and increased research opportunities

How can you benefit the most from the 3MT experience?

  • Start early to plan and prepare
  • Assemble a team of guides and supporters who will give you honest feedback
  • Pay special attention to length (over 3:30 minutes = disqualification)
  • Consider every aspect of your presentation as equally important and make them work together (words, slide, presentation)
  • Practice, practice, practice (and ask for and use feedback) 

How will the judges evaluate your presentation?

All 3MT judges evaluate according to several criteria:

  1. Comprehension: Did you clearly outline what you are doing and why?   Does it relate to reform in Ukraine?
  2. Engagement: Did you convince your audience that your research matters in the world, and did you make them want to know more about it?
  3. Communication: Did you effectively communicate your message to a non-specialist audience through your presentation skills?

How can you prepare for the Three Minute Thesis competition?

Preparing for the competition involves three overlapping phases: planning, writing and visuals, and rehearsing.


1. Planning

Lay the groundwork for an effective presentation to help you gain the most from the experience.  Research, consult with your supervisor, form a support team, and create a schedule with interim deadlines.

a) Research

Study the 3MT rules and guidelines. Watch videos of winning presentations at other universities. View or read 3MT presentation tips on YouTube and the internet. (Try searching: 3MT tips.) Write notes about what you find.

b) Review the reforms in Ukraine

Study Ukraine’s reforms and find which are relevant to your research:

Указ президента про стратегію сталого розвитку “Україна 2020”

Презентація головних ідей стратегії сталого розвитку “Україна 2020”

c) Consult with supervisor

The 3MT competition offers you many benefits. However, it is a major commitment and will take lots of your time and energy. After you have done basic research, talk with your supervisor to make sure that entering the competition is right for you at this time. If so, ask for his or her advice and guidance.

d) Form a support team

Winning 3MT participants say their support team plays a big role in their success. Your informal team can include your supervisor, other professors, fellow students, parents, siblings, and others. All of these people can offer you valuable and different kinds of support. For example, your parents and siblings can encourage you and give you feedback on whether or not your presentation makes sense to a non-specialized audience. Your supervisors, professors, and fellow students can help you make sure your presentation contains factual and current information. Your younger siblings or friends from other faculties can help you make sure your presentation is fresh, engaging, relatable, and memorable. Not all your team members need to give you feedback at the same times; you can get feedback from various people at various times, according to their availability. Be sure to thank them often!

e) Create a schedule

The secret to success on any big project is to break it up into smaller tasks with interim deadlines. Use a calendar or planner and allow at least one month to prepare. Here is a sample schedule with goals/tentative deadlines for a one-month 3MT process:

Sept. 23          Decide to enter

Sept. 23-30    Research/view videos/make notes

Oct.  1             Consult with supervisor/brainstorm content

Oct. 2-9           Consolidate team and prepare first draft of your presentation and slide

Oct.  10           Show first draft of speech & slide to supervisor

Oct. 11-14      Revise speech & slide, and practice privately

Oct. 15            First practice presentation in front of support team (videotape). Request feedback on content (message + slide) and presentation skills (i.e. pacing, eye contact, pronunciation, expression, gestures, timing)

Oct. 15-21      Revise presentation based on feedback; practice & request more feedback from team as available.

Oct. 21            Dress rehearsal for team plus others who have not seen it. Videotape and/or request feedback and view the video.

Oct. 21-22      Final polish/timing; final recording

Oct. 23            Submit to


 2Writing & Visuals

In this phase, you will brainstorm, write, distill, and revise the speech for your presentation and decide on an effective image for your slide. It is natural that writing and revising your speech will be a messy and recursive (non-linear) process. That is how most good writing happens, but it’s especially true when you must condense your entire thesis (possibly years of research) into a 3:30-minute talk. As you write and revise, save all drafts so you don’t lose something you might want to put back in.

To get started, do some free-flow writing. Use a timer to help you focus, and write nonstop on everything you think you might want to say without worrying about organization, grammar, or spelling. To help, you can follow a few prompts based on the 3MT expectations. For example, choose one of the following prompts and write for 30 minutes.  The next day, choose another prompt and write again for 30 minutes.  To help you gain focus and clarity practice writing every day for a week.

  • Why did I pick my research topic and how does it relate to reforms in Ukraine?
  • Why should people care about it?
  • What problem will my research help solve?
  • What gap(s) in the research field does my research help fill?
  • How will my research make this better for people or help change the world? (even if only modestly)
  • What problems have I found so far in my research?
  • How did I overcome the problems—or how will I?
  • What do I want others to know about my research and why?
  • What findings have emerged so far from my research?
  • What surprises have emerged from my research so far?
  • Looking forward, what excites me about the future of this research?
  • What do I want my audience to remember, think, or do, after my presentation?

Next, review what you have written, and pick out the strongest ideas to develop. You could also ask others for feedback on what they think are the most interesting or best ideas. Write a new draft that develops those ideas.

Finally, revise, reshape, and distill your ideas through several drafts. You must get it down to the 400-600 words that you can deliver orally in 3:30 minutes. Ask others for feedback on content and make changes. Here are some things to consider as you write, revise, and polish your speech:

  • Give it a clear, catchy, pertinent, and ideally short title (avoid colons) that non-specialists will grasp
  • Consider crafting your presentation like a story: beginning, middle, and end
  • Keep it personal, and show your passion
  • Keep your ideas sophisticated; state them simply and clearly
  • Use humour (but don’t overdo it)
  • Give a strong opening. Some winning opening phrases have been:

“The majestic creature you see behind me is…”

“Imagine waking up every morning…”

“You don’t have to be a comedian or a city bus driver to know…”

“To begin with, I’d like to draw your attention to the picture behind me…”

“Search Engines.  Google or Baidu. Love them or hate them, we all use them…”

“Have you ever seen a movie where…?”

  • Stay focused on your core ideas and allow for a moderate pace of delivery
  • Use plain language (shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs
  • Avoid data
  • Repeat key phrases, especially terms you are worried about mispronouncing
  • Build in surprises. Examples:

“Your tongue turns blue if you eat too much silver.”

 “Mosquitos kill more than a million people every year, making them the deadliest animal on the planet.”

  • Plan (and write in) pauses for emphasis and reflection and for audience reactions.
  • Acknowledge prior research in the area, but emphasize how you will add to it or fill a hole. Examples:

“Lots of people have explored that aspect, but ‘hardly anybody has looked at…”

“Surprisingly we know next to nothing about [x]. What I’m doing is….”

“My research takes a slightly different approach…”

  • Include problems or challenges with your research—and how you have or will overcome them
  • Be realistic about your contributions, but connect them to the big picture. Example:

“My research has taken one small step towards that challenge, but in doing so it has made a giant leap in search engine performance for mankind.”

  • Use metaphors and vivid descriptions in plain language to help your audience understand specialized terms. Examples:

“Ducks rely on an innate immune receptor, which is like a molecular guard on duty.”

 “One part of my research is about clustering, which take the search results, explodes them, then puts them back together in groups of similar documents.”

  • Forecast your results and their potential impact. Boldly declare that your research might save lives, reduce corruption and suffering, increase job opportunities, make people happier or more productive, or save governments money.
  • Craft an effective ending. Good options include restating your points in different words, urging your audience to think or act differently (“call to action”); offering a final compelling or light-hearted fact; show how your research has changed you; or project the future of your research—even a little wildly or playfully. Examples:

“With my low budget special analysis, I can help Ukraine, regardless of resources…to find out …”

“In the future, we might even be able to …”

Common weaknesses in the writing/presentation:

  • Trying to say too much (or not saying enough)
  • Writing it like an academic paper
  • Using many technical terms, dry facts, or long, complex sentences
  • Failing to show the big picture (“why does this research matter?”)
  • Failing to make the audience curious
  • Lacking logical development or storyline
  • Lacking a personal connection
  • Lacking a sense of urgency
  • Lacking surprises

Create your slide

The single slide that will accompany your presentation is vital to your message; do not make it an afterthought. As you brainstorm, write, and revise your speech, think about an image or images that would best serve your purpose. Are there some graphics, photographs, or charts that would complement (not repeat) your spoken message? Is there a single, impactful image that can set the tone or illustrate the potential impact of your research in a way that your words cannot? Here are some things to keep in mind as you craft your slide:

  • Keep it simple; avoid distracting images and distracting text
  • Don’t overlap images and use plain fonts that will cross platforms your images and text stay the same across computers
  • Engage the audience’s emotions,e. make them curious, make them laugh, make them sympathize, make them gasp, or make them wonder. For example, get them to think:

“What’s in it for me?”

“Oh, how sad :-(“


“That’s mysterious…”

  • Avoid small, strange, or hard-to-read fonts and hard-to-see colours
  • Use your slide as a backdrop, not as a presentation guide (i.e. bullets)
  • Put your name and contact information on it


3 Rehearsing

In this phase, you will practice reading and presenting your presentation to make sure you stay on time (no more than three minutes and 30 seconds) and deliver your message in a way that engages, interests, and informs the audience. It takes years to become a confident presenter, especially in a second or subsequent language. This is a student competition, and everyone expects some nerves. Your best insurance against nerves is to over-prepare through lots of practice. Also, it can be very helpful to videotape yourself and ask others to observe you and offer feedback.

Do these things when presenting:

  • Dress business casual
  • Trust in your good preparation, and enjoy this experience
  • Be professional but authentic (be yourself)
  • Breathe consciously and deeply before and during your talk
  • Project your voice, though cautiously if you have a microphone
  • Vary your tone of voice and inflection; make it like a conversation
  • Practice your pronunciation with a native English speaker, and change or cut words that are hard to say or understand
  • Stand up straight and confidently
  • Speak with enthusiasm and passion
  • Move intentionally (rather than randomly)
  • Build in pauses for expected audience reactions such as laughter
  • Recover quickly and smile if you forget a line or otherwise stumble, even winners stumble.
  • Use eye contact and gesture to engage the audience and add emphasis
  • End by thanking your audience for their attention

Avoid these things when presenting:

  • Rushing; pauses build suspense, make you seem knowledgeable, and allow the audience to process information
  • “Swallowing,” glossing over, or mispronouncing words
  • Locking your knees or arms or staring into one part of the audience; if you look nervous, your audience gets nervous
  • Holding papers that could shake or fall out of order; use note cards with bullet points instead, if necessary
  • Nervous ‘tics’ such as saying ‘ah, ‘umm,’ or ‘ok’; fidgeting; looking repeatedly up at your slide; tapping foot, or pacing
  • Strange body language (i.e. crossing arms or legs, hands in pockets, hunching over, smiling or frowning too much)
  • Turning your back to your audience (never, never!)
  • Going over your time.

Best wishes with your Three Minute and Thirsty Second Thesis competition!

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