What made you get into Yale’s 3MT competition?
I got into the three minute thesis competition because I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice talking about my research to a more general audience. I work in a lab that focuses on RNA biochemistry, a topic that can be difficult to broach with a layperson. Where does one even start when you don’t know how far someone’s basic biological knowledge extends and there are no obvious ties to some disease? I often found myself giving rambling monologues when friends and family members inquired about my work, and that definitely needed to change. Also coming closer to graduation, I wanted to be able to concisely describe my work when networking and interviewing for jobs. Finally, I entered grad school pretty terrified about public speaking. While that has improved over the years, I wanted to challenge myself to practice that skill and get more comfortable in front of an audience.
What did you find most challenging about having to narrow your whole research into just 3 minutes?
What was most challenging about narrowing my research into 3 minutes was finding a way to simplify the description of my work as much as possible without losing scientific accuracy. I needed to workshop a lot of metaphors and analogies before landing on ones that accurately described the research. A big part of my process was to try to explain my work to a person outside of my field and ask them to convey back to me what they understood of my spiel. This definitely helped me figure out what messages got lost in translation or how analogies could get misinterpreted.
Halfway through the competition, you had to adapt to a virtual format. How did you find the experience and which tools that OCS offered you found most helpful?
Adapting to a virtual format was challenging because in some ways it felt like a totally different type of competition than what we had been preparing for. While the slide and the talk itself was the same, it feels like a very different experience to present to a camera than to an audience. A live presentation can incorporate more forms of movement, more opportunities to gesture, the ability to gauge and respond to the audience’s reactions, etc. The virtual format loses those elements and it can be hard work to be as engaging and use your hands and body when presenting to a camera. You also have to consider lighting, distance from the camera, background, noise, etc. On the positive side, you have unlimited opportunities to nail your presentation, and you don’t have the stress of being in front of a crowd.
Any words of advice for the people trying this year?
My advice for 3MT participants this year is to start early, bounce your ideas off of colleagues/friends, and take advantage of the workshops, advising, etc. offered. Running through the requirements for Certificate of Public Communication really guides you through most of the process of preparing for the competition. No matter what happens ultimately, this is a great opportunity to practice talking about your own work in different ways and develop public speaking/presentation skills which are valuable in so many contexts.