Tuesday, July 20, 2010

3 minutes

Dear imaginary readers,

Fear not! I did not start this blog only to abandon it, or to post once in a blue moon. My month's silence can be contributed to 3 things: 1) studying without internet access; 2) computer break down; 3) proper real no work no study holidays. Oh, and I did write one long blog entry only to have the computer lose it. So I'm back and studying again so I shall sure blog more as I have something to procrastinate.

I wanted to share with you the events of the Three Minute Thesis Competition. I thought it was more widely established than it actually is - started in Australia at University of Queensland, I think, and this is the first year at University of Adelaide. So what is it? According to UQ, "It is an exercise in developing academic and research communication skills. Research higher degree (PhD and MPhil) students have three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis topic and its significance in language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience." 
The Rules: 1 slide, no transitions, no props, no music, just 3 minutes speaking with that single slide.
The Motivation: MONEY! To go to conferences. Which I need. And failing that, a t-shirt designed by Jorge Cham, he of PhD Comics fame.
The Competition: At this stage, to tell the truth, pretty light on. We just had the faculty round, and there were only 6 of us competitors. 3 linguists, 1 creative writing, 1 geography & environmental studies, 1 english lit student. So you'd think the chances of a linguist getting something were pretty good.

So no, I didn't win. None of us 3 linguists did, nor got the people's choice award. I tried to stack the room with linguistics students but none of them came.

Nevertheless it was an interesting experience and as one of the other PhD students pointed out, it helps to know what to say at dinner parties. How to present you and your research to other people without sounding boring. Or conversely, sounding ultra boring if you don't want to talk about it. "What are you doing?" "PhD of linguistics" "What that's about then?" "Grammar."

So I think I went through about 6 different slides and 5 different scripts in the process of deciding what to present. Slide 1 told the story as I've experienced: starting with my brother, who inspired me to choose the topic, moving to Jazz great Fats Waller who seems to express the spirit of jazz, to Tom Cruise because my students chose Top Gun codenames.

But it was a bit too conversational. Then I rewrote the speech to better explain literacy. And it was a good explanation. But it was a good written explanation. No snap when read aloud. And I couldn't think how to turn it into a slide. So I turned it around and tried for the pop culture and intelligent culture hook. The Mighty Boosh's Spirit of Jazz, who doesn't really say anything enlightened or deep and meaningful. And Albert Einstein who seemed to express the spirit of the competition. I tried it in one order then in the other.

So I completely changed tack. And this is what I ended up with:

It's kinda hard to explain in a blog as it's designed to be looked out while the speech is listened to. I told the story of an amalgamated student who does honours and my research. Here's the first few lines and hopefully you'll get the idea:

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a kid in high school who has THE CALLING – maybe he plays trombone, maybe drums, maybe he’s a PIANO MAN. He’s learnt classical piano, but decides to study jazz at university where they teach him that IT DON’T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING.

Well, I thought it was good anyway. So I encourage other people to do it. It's great to see some people thinking outside the box and presenting their research in a way that really makes you want to know more.

Now I just have to think of a new idea for next year. Or new songs. Either/or.


  1. Sorry about that not-turning-up thing (turns out I really needed the break!). It was a good speech - the competition must have been pretty high!
    New songs for next year might give you an excuse to buy new cds!

  2. No probs Jess! I think it was probably not best to schedule it during holidays for anyone! Hope you're making the most of your time off!