Tips for Grads: Three Minutes, Many Rewards

Guest column by Amy Enright, Microbiology PhD student,

One of the most empowering quotes I’ve ever stumbled on is, “be scared, and do it anyway.”

I’ve known about the Three Minute Thesis® competition for several years. Last year, I finally signed up. And if you had watched my three-minute talk, you would have definitely seen some nerves. My hands shook a little and my voice cracked, but somehow I faked it well enough to earn second place. And hopefully, the more I put myself in those situations, the less scary public speaking will become.

When I signed up for the competition, I was only thinking about the most obvious outcomes. I was expecting to be challenged to communicate my work in a conversational voice. I was expecting to leave with the tools to explain my research in a relatable way to my best friend, or my grandma. I was expecting another professional development item on my CV.

And while all those outcomes came true, the unexpected rewards are what ultimately converted me from being uncertain about signing up to thinking that everyone should try it. Here’s why:

  • I got to meet awesome people from across campus and learn amazing things from them. (How do babies learn language? What happens to cows when they get too hot? What even is bioelectronic medicine, and how can it be used to regulate blood pressure?)
  • Reflecting on “the big picture” helped me feel more connected to my work.
  • I had lots of fun conversations with family and friends who helped review my script.
  • There are even cash prizes for finalists, First/Second/Third Place, and the People’s Choice Award!

But do you want to know the best part? I proved to myself that I don’t have to have it all figured out before jumping in. That I can be scared, and still grow. Plus, the next time I give a talk, my hands might even shake a little less.

Editor’s note: Sign up here to compete in this year’s Three Minute Thesis® competition. Registration closes October 19.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.