you think it’s hard to get a laugh when making a quip
related to optometry, then you probably haven’t seen
University of Waterloo PhD candidate Gah-Jone Won’s
presentation that won him first place in this year’s Three
Minute Thesis competition in early June.
The moment hits in the first 20 seconds of the video,
setting the tone for the next 160 seconds, in which the viewer
learns about a condition called presbyopia (age-related
blurring of vision) and a drug that Mr. Won is developing
as an alternative to the usual solutions of bifocal glasses or
surgery. By the end, if you’re not quite thinking, “Optome-
try is fun!” then at least you’re thinking, “I sure know a lot
more about the structure of my own eyes than I did three minutes ago.”
These competitions, you might say, are having their moment in Canada.
Originating at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008, the
Three Minute Thesis competition, or 3MT, first appeared in Canada at the
University of British Columbia in 2011 and went national two years later
thanks to the sponsorship of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies.
Francophone students have their own competition, Ma thèse en 180 secondes,
abbreviated as MT180, organized by l’Association francophone pour le
savoir or Acfas. An early adopter, Acfas has organized a contest to popula-
rize science for student researchers since 1993.
The granting councils have entered the ring as well: the Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council started its Storytellers competition in
2013, and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council
launched a contest called Science, Action! in 2015.
The rules differ somewhat for each competition. The 3MT, open to
students in PhD or master’s programs, is a live talk that restricts competi-
tors to one visual slide. Students compete at the department level, advance
to the university level, and then each university sends one student to one
of three regional (East, West and Ontario) competitions. At each of these
stages, students compete in front of a live audience. At the regional level,
the competition is recorded and videos are evaluated by a national panel
of three non-specialist judges who select first- and second-place winners.
The first-place winner receives $1,500 and a paid trip to the CAGS annual
conference; the second-place winner and a People’s Choice winner (the
latter chosen by public vote) receive $1,000 and $500, respectively.
This year’s judges included The Tragically Hip guitarist Rob Baker,
Canadian Institutes of Health Research director general Danika Goosney,
and CBC Radio journalists Nicola Luksic and Tom Howell, who produce
Ideas from the Trenches, the network’s new initiative to profile graduate student research. Students from 35 colleges and universities took part in the
3MT this year.
Canada’s francophone version of the 3MT has an additional twist: the
top three finalists of the MT180 were invited to an international French-language competition held at the end of September in Morocco. The three
representatives from Quebec were Carine Monat of Université de Montréal, who had won both first place and the People’s Choice award in the
Quebec competiton, followed by Alex Drolet-Dostaler of Université du
Quebec en Outaouais and Maud Gratuze of Université Laval. Ms. Gratuze
won second place in Morocco and a cash prize of € 1,000.
In SSHRC’s Storytellers contest, open to all postsecondary students,
competitors submit their entries in the format of their choice (video, audio, text or infographic) describing how SSHRC-funded research is making a difference in the lives of Canadians. The top 25 entries were selected
as finalists and those students were invited to turn their submissions into
a TED-talk-style presentation for a live audience at the annual Congress
of the Humanities and Social Sciences, held this year at the University
of Calgary in June, where five winners were chosen. The 25 finalists each
received a cash prize of $3,000, and the five winners were also invited to
feature their presentations at the 2016 SSHRC Impact Awards on November 22. This year, students from 41 universities took part.