On your marks, get set, explain!

An 80,000-word thesis would take about nine hours to present. Gruelling, right? Now imagine distilling those 80,000 words into a three-minute presentation.

That’s the idea behind the graduate student competition known as the Three Minute Thesis, or 3MT™ for short. Developed by the University of Queensland in Australia, this exercise in brevity cultivates students' academic, presentation and research communication skills and challenges them to effectively explain their research in language suited to a non-specialist audience.

The rules for University of Alberta 3MT Participants are strict: no more than one single static PowerPoint slide is permitted, no additional electronic media and no additional props. And if you’re thinking to yourself, “I bet if I rapped really fast, I could sum up my thesis in three minutes”, forget it. The rules state that presentations must be spoken word, which means no poems, raps or songs.

Cathryn van Kessel, a graduate student in the Department of Secondary Education doing a PhD in Social Studies and Curriculum Studies, is one of 15 finalists who will compete at the UAlberta 3MT Finals on April 13 in Convocation Hall.

To see if Cathryn is ready to beat the clock, we asked her to answer three questions in three minutes.

Faculty of Education: The first Three Minute Thesis at the University of Alberta was held last year. What made you want to sign up for the 3MT competition this year?

Van Kessel: A professor in my department, Elaine Simmt, suggested it to me because of my unique topic.

Faculty of Education: How many presentations did you have to do on the road to the UAlberta 3MT Finals? And will the presentation you give at the finals be different from the ones you’ve given before?

Van Kessel: I actually only had to present this once, although I have presented my dissertation research in a number of different contexts—not usually in three minutes, though! It's my understanding that the number of presentations prior to the semi-finals varied a lot depending on the faculty. My presentation for the 3MT Finals will be tweaked, but pretty similar to what I presented at the semi-finals.

Faculty of Education: Final question—you’re pursuing a PhD in Secondary Education. Without giving away too much from the presentation you’ll give at the finals, can you sum up your dissertation in one sentence?

Van Kessel: Oh my—and here I thought three minutes was difficult! My doctoral study, Youth Conceptualizations of Evil and Social Studies Education, entailed interviewing secondary school students and also examining how the notion of evil in philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology might inform the study of education to increase students' sense of interconnected agency in the face of systemic violence.

Watch Cathryn van Kessel and the other 3MT finalists compete in the UAlberta 3MT Finals April 13, 2016, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Convocation Hall, UAlberta North Campus. All UAlberta students, staff, alumni, and their guests are welcome.

Feature image: Cathryn van Kessel, a PhD student in Secondary Education, is one of 15 finalists competing at the UAlberta Three Minute Thesis Finals in April.