Rosie Ford tells her experience as winner of Bristol’s 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition

Rosie recently won the University of Bristol’s 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition for her talk on ‘Fungal secondary metabolites: exploring a kingdom of possibilities.  Rosie tells us about her experience and some top tips about presenting your research in a virtual world.

3MT® (or Three Minute Thesis) is a competition for doctoral students, originating from the University of Queensland, which stipulates that competitors must present their research in just 3 minutes – any longer and they are immediately disqualified. Normally, the competition is held in person, in front of an audience, but due to COVID-19, in the past two years, the competitions have been moved online, presenting a new challenge – how do you engage an audience who can walk away from their screen at any time?

I decided to take part in Bristol Doctoral College’s 2021 3MT competition for several reasons. The first, to improve my presenting skills, especially in a virtual world I wanted to teach myself how to adapt to this. Secondly, I hadn’t set foot in the lab since December 2020, and I was just about to head back to research after a PIPS placement when I submitted my 3MT application – I needed to refamiliarize myself with my research and what made it so exciting (how better to do this than explaining your project and arguing why it is important in a concise way). Lastly, I’d heard great things from colleagues who had taken part in the Bristol Doctoral College 3MT in the past so why not give it a go myself?

The whole experience was hugely rewarding, and the support is given by the Bristol Doctoral College and the other candidates was key in my success. There were never any feelings of intense competition but rather mutual support and a desire to communicate research in an accessible manner. Potentially winning the competition was simply a bonus to all the skills you picked up along the way. So here are the key things I learnt:

1. Eye contact is crucial – we know that this is true for in-person presentations, you can’t stare at the floor the whole time, but how do you convey this when you’re using a computer or laptop? Look straight into the camera. The temptation is always to look at your audience to see how they are responding to you, as you would normally, but if you are looking at your screen you don’t seem as prepared. Perhaps the easiest way to teach yourself to make eye contact with a virtual audience is to record yourself and watch it back. This also helps you to see what your body language is like and if it adds to or distracts from your talk. Not only this but looking at the camera does actually help with nerves since you can ignore anything else going on in that video call and just focus on presenting.

2. Check your presentation is appropriate for your audience by practising it in front of people in your target group. This could be friends, family, or colleagues, and they don’t have to listen to the whole thing, even just 1 slide or the first 30 seconds would be useful. If you’ve lost them already, you need to rethink things. Even though I was lucky enough to be the winner of this year’s competition, I’m definitely guilty of this too. In my first version of my 3MT talk, the first word I said was “peptide”. Admittedly this was key to my presentation but perhaps not the most exciting way to start off, especially if your audience doesn’t know what a peptide is – something my fellow 3MT competitors pointed out to me. On that note, if you have to include something technical or complex in a presentation to a lay audience, give yourself plenty of time to explain it and metaphors can really help with this – but make sure you use something most people will know (i.e., you shouldn’t need to explain your metaphor too).

I’m looking forward to going onto the next stages of the competition, seeing what other doctoral students across the UK are up to, and picking up some useful skills as I go along.

Rosie Ford, SWBio DTP student


Hedgehog Friendly Campus

We launched the University of Bristol Hedgehog Friendly Campus (HFC) campaign on a cold November day in 2019 just in time to raise bonfire awareness. The newly formed campaign team worked hard to promote the campaign amongst our campus community and to engage with as many staff and students as possible. The Bronze initiatives were met and submitted by the 2019 deadline with an ease that we all took for granted. The campus was buzzing with hedgehog news, our diverse mix of university staff and students met regularly and all looked forward to 2020 and being awarded our entry-level Bronze status and developing the creative ideas we had for Silver.

University of Bristol Hedgehog Friendly Group

2020 had so much promise and like many campuses, we celebrated our first award and launched ‘Waking up to Bronze’ in the early Spring. We started looking at ways to fundraise and the student group, Bristol University Conservation Group (BUCG) held a fabulous quiz night. Our team applied for Provost funding overseen by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Judith Squires and were delighted when funding was approved to support our Silver campaign and ambitious plans to develop both public awareness and landscape improvements for our prickly friends.

Student litter pick for the Bristol Hedgehog Friendly Campus Group

Little did we know that our planned large scale event for Hedgehog Awareness Week in May, with scheduled talks, comedy, a quiz, drinks, and nibbles with VIP guests from the university, city council and local wildlife charities would be postponed due to the first lockdown for Covid-19. Like so many other postponed events we are still waiting to confirm when this can run.

Covid-19 has impacted on the campaign and our path is not as straightforward as it once was. We have not lost sight of the values and the changes we are trying to make to be more hedgehog friendly. Our landscape managers have been reviewing rodent control and consulting with the HFC for advice to recognise the sightings that have taken place since the campaign began and more appropriate traps used.

The landscape team are also currently surveying our grounds along with community outreach projects installing hedgehog houses and feeding stations on a shared garden site on campus, and the construction of more hedgehog houses ready for installation next year. Our Facebook group continues to shine a light on the campaign and the BUCG are running a baking competition this month. Grassroots events like this are popping up more and more as we all adapt to the current situation.

Building hedgehog survey tunnels

We may have had to gear down our approach in 2020 and the University of Bristol Silver Award may feel elusive, but our determination to do what we can, when we can to help hedgehogs hasn’t changed. Our coordinator Jo Wilkinson at HFC deserves a special mention, as without her guidance and support we would not have the knowledge we do now. We have shared and engaged the plight of hedgehogs on campus across our many divisions of staff, students and our local community and together we are all fighting to save hedgehogs in Bristol.

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