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How to Present Your Thesis in Three Minutes

The championship of the 2022 HKUST Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition went to PhD student Georgios Grigoropoulos. We interviewed George about his experience participating in the competition.

Q: Tell us about yourself. What do you study at HKUST?

Award presentation banner at 3MT HKUST

Georgios Grigoropoulos, Champion of 2022 HKUST 3MT

Hi, there! My name is George, and I’m from Greece. I obtained my Civil Engineering diploma from the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece, specializing in Structural Engineering. By the end of my undergraduate studies, I was determined to pursue a PhD degree and HKUST seemed the ideal place to do so! Amusingly, I arrived with the intention of studying a different topic than what I eventually earned my degree on! I guess that is the beauty of the PhD process; you never know where research takes you! Thus, I moved from structural to hydraulic engineering combined with a little bit of physics.

Q: What motivated you to participate in 3MT?

I always enjoy giving presentations! I believe that your research is wasted unless you communicate your findings and actively seek for feedback. And it’s even more interesting presenting to a general audience! It is not uncommon for researchers to get lost in the semantics and “miss the forest for the trees”. The Three Minute Thesis competition is a wonderful exercise to focus back on what matters and, ultimately, appreciate the work. For that, I highly encourage my colleagues to at least try it once!

With that said, I didn’t have the intention to join the 3MT competition this year! You see, I was in the process of writing my thesis and preparing for my PhD defence, and the competition seemed like a distraction. Besides, I had participated and championed in a similar contest (5MT) organized by IAHR HK (i.e., a community of hydraulic engineers) a couple of years ago, and I didn’t feel I was missing out. So, credit goes to Dr. Waqar, my friend and lab mate, first for believing in me and, second, for persuading me to participate! I wouldn’t have won – or even showed up – if it wasn’t for his words of encouragement.

Q: How did you prepare for the presentation recording? How did you handle nerves?

Presentation Slide for the 3MT presentation

One single static slide is permitted in the 3MT presentation.

In my typical fashion, I left everything to the last minute! The deadline for submitting the video was Sunday midnight, and I merely allocated the weekend for preparing. On Saturday, I noted down all the key elements of my research that I wanted to emphasize in my presentation. I also worked on a script; not for the purpose of reciting, but to better organize my thoughts. Once the ideas were settled, I prepared my slide. My approach was to use figures that would provide an illustration to my speech and, hence, help the audience memorize it better.

Sunday was entirely devoted to recording the video presentation, and surely that was a challenging process! The first takes were too long; way beyond the 3-minute limit. Eventually, I distilled the essential ideas to a presentation exactly 3-minutes long. Still, my delivery was less than ideal: long pauses, stutters, funny pronunciations, you name it! I only got it right (or at least not that bad) just before the deadline. Undoubtedly, there was a considerable amount of stress involved. However, some deep breaths and verbal motivation from my significant other went a long way!

Q: How has the HKUST 3MT experience benefited you and helped you prepare for the future?

Preparing for the 3MT competition essentially helped me write the “Introduction” chapter of my thesis. It really allowed me to extract the basic idea of my research and express it in simple terms but also avoid trivializing it. That way, the audience can also appreciate the work. And there is no better feeling than that!

Q: Any advice to future 3MT entrants for a winning presentation?

First, I encourage everyone to participate. It is an invaluable experience, regardless of winning or not. I sincerely believe that all PhD research topics are indeed impactful and inherently interesting; thus, the topic per se is not the deciding factor in winning! All that is needed is to sharpen the main idea and highlight the undeniable impact of your work. As a practical advice, analogies are always useful to describe the followed methodologies. Finally, make sure you give enough time to preparing (so that you don’t race against the clock, like myself), involve your friends, and have fun!


– By Jennifer Gu (Library) and Georgios Grigoropoulos (Guest Contributor) 

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published September 15, 2022