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3 Minute Thesis (3MT)

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Erin May
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TRU 3MT Competition

The 3 Minute Thesis (3MT)

Three Minute Thesis Logo

Undergraduate student or faculty member, but want to participate? Check out TRU's other 180 second research competitions during Research Month. The information and rules on this page specifically refer to the graduate 3MT, but will help you no matter which competition you are in:

3 Minutes Thesis Slide

Your slide plays an important role in how you present and deliver the content of your thesis.

Think of the 3 minute slide as a backdrop to a play.  The slide serves as your "theatrical set" to your "one man show".  The slide sets the tone and graphically conveys the information to which you are speaking to.

  • a single, static, slide is permitted
  • no slide transitions, sounds, animations or 'movement' of any description are permitted

3MT winning presentations

Graphic Design Principles

Design matters

The more strikingly visual your presentation is, the more people will remember it. And more importantly, they will remember you. — Paul Arden

Good graphic design is not about decoration or making something look super fancy.
Design is about making communication as easy and clear as possible.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a principle of the Golden ratio with broad application as a "rule of thumb" or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings, and photographs. The guideline proposes according to the principle of the Golden section search that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject. - Wikipedia

Rivertree thirds md

White Space

  • You need white space to help balance the images and text on your slide. 
  • Empty space is not negative or bad space.  White space creates harmony and balance.


Using colour is an important aspect of delivering your message. Colour can help convey emotion, but keep in mind that colour association is culturally specific. For example, the colour white can mean purity in some cultures, but in other cultures white is associated with mourning.

It is a good rule of thumb to use colour sparingly (2-3 colours maximum).

Things to think about:

Contrast - shoot for high contrasting colours.  Avoid black text on an all white background as that can cause glare and eye strain.

Serif vs San Serif Font

Resist the temptation to put your entire thesis on your slide.  Your slide should convey the essence of your thesis and is meant to complement your spoken presentation.

Only include things that are:

  • critical, essential and relevant
  • metaphors or analogies to catch your audience's attention
  • excellent graphical representations of a concept

image source:



Tools for Finding Images

Remember: even if an image is in the public domain, you should still cite it! For the 3MT slide, the citation text can be small and out of the way.

TRU Library image databases - permitted to use images for educational purposes

Public Domain Images

Public domain: the copyright on public domain photos (and other works) has either expired or otherwise doesn't exist. You may use public domain work without worrying about getting permission, but you should still cite them, because they are not your work!

Creative Commons Images

For more info on creative commons, click here.

Vector & Raster Graphics

Vector based images (.ai, .eps, .svg, and some .pdf) are based on a mathematical equation. For example, if your image is a circle in vector format, that circle is simply a mathematical formula. If you resize that circle by 1000x, the mathematical formula would still calculate that circle in proportion. This means that no matter how you resize vector images they will scale properly and there will never be any pixelation.

Raster based graphics, (.bmp, .jpg, .png, .gif, .tif, etc.) are based on a grid of pixels or dots. The pixels represent certain colors that make up a bigger image and are resolution dependent.  When you resized a raster graphic, they eventually start to pixelate due to the pixels being “stretched” beyond their original size.

Orc - Raster vs Vector comparison

Public Speaking & Feeling Confident

3MT In 3 Minutes

How to look confident when you aren't feeling confident

Remember: your audience wants you to succeed. No one is plotting for your failure.

Check out your classroom in advance

Familiarize yourself with the layout of the of the room. Where is the spot where you will be speaking from? Is there a podium? How are the desks or chairs arranged? Will you need audio-visual equipment (ie. laptop or a mac computer connector)? How do the lights turn on/off? Is there a chalk board or dry wipe board?

Practice your lecture beforehand

If possible, practice giving your lecture/speech in the room where you will be doing it. Practice your timing and record the amount of time for each portion of your lecture/speech on your speaker's notes to help you keep track of the pacing of your lecture/speech when you are doing it for real.

PRO TIP: See your lecture as your audience will see it and have a friend record your presentation practice. Use that recording to look for ways to streamline your presentation or find out if you have any verbal or non-verbal habits that can be corrected or minimized.

Bring water

Not only will the water quench a sudden dry throat, but it can also act as a prop. While you won't have time in your 3 minute thesis to sip water, having it before and after helps.


Wear clothing that is professional and exudes confidence. Your clothes should be comfortable and loose enough so that you can move around. Check for potential wardrobe malfunctions.

Script vs Notes

As you work on your presentation, you may start with a detailed script. It is a good idea to distil that script into an outline.

It is best to have your 3MT presentation memorized, but if you have to rely on notes they should be detailed enough to include key definitions, examples, analogies and any other detail that you think you might need some support if you get nervous in front of the room. 

Talisman or special token

If you have a small token, good luck charm or special piece of jewelry that makes you feel good, have it on you.


If you have a song or playlist that gets you going and makes you feel good, listen to it on your way to the competition to get PUMPED UP!

Kathy's secret song....


What you are aiming for is.....

  • Confident
  • Calm
  • Likeable
  • Humble
  • Genuine
  • Credible
  • Authoritative
  • In Control

To achieve that:

  • Maintain regular eye contact
  • Speak clearly and enunciate: Make sure that not only do you keep regular eye contact, but try to have your audience see your face and mouth as much as possible. It helps many understand what you are saying and understand meaning.
  • Use your body and use the space
  • Vary speed and pitch; facial expressions: Don’t yell … you are having a conversation with your audience.
  • Use an analogy or story to make your research relatable, but avoid these three conversation stoppers: sex, religion and politics
  • Because you aren't reading a script, you'll be able to watch your audience's reaction to your delivery. Are they confused? Do they understand what you are saying? Look for body language and adjust accordingly.
  • Include delivery reminders. Leave yourself notes and reminders within your notes. For example, "Breathe".. or "Slow Down" or sample questions to spur conversation or classroom contribution.

3MT Resources


These resources provide tips and tricks for preparing your slide, sharing your research, and preparing to present at the 3MT competition.