So you think you can do science?

Over the past few years, we have observed a growing number of initiatives to make science more accessible to the public. My Thesis in 180 Seconds is one such example where researchers must explain their work in a concise and simple way in 3 minutes. And, the international finals are happening in Montreal today (September 25)! This event, and others like it, are challenging scientists to present their work, findings, and future areas of investigation in a fun and imaginative fashion.

The days of off-putting presentations, longwinded lectures, and tables filled with equations and baffling diagrams are numbered. Over the last few years, a new approach has been gaining ground in France and worldwide, which allows scientists to present their work to the public at large. From dance to stand-up, nothing is off-limits when it comes to making it easier to understand physics, chemistry and other scientific disciplines that can appear to be overly complicated or just plain boring. If you want your work to be accessible, the trick, it turns out, is to keep your presentations short - no longer than a few minutes - and to focus on the core of your research. And it seems to be working. In just over ten years, a handful of national initiatives have gone global. Below, we take a look at some of the innovative ways science communication is being kept short and sweet, and to the point.


This new form of communication, which allows researchers to talk directly to non-specialist audiences, began in 2005 at the Cheltenham Science Festival, which provided the stage for the very first FameLab contest. Researchers and science students aged 21 to 40 were asked to explain their work to passers-by in three minutes. The secret of the event’s success - the 3Cs (content, clarity and charisma) - can be a real eye-opener for competitors: “For the first time, I came into contact with the amazing world of research outside my country and that was the very first moment when I thought: I really want to become a researcher,” explained Ivana Strazic, after entering the competition, which is now held in 21 different countries.

Science slams

In 2006, the German poet Alex Dreppec launched the first Science Slam in Darmstadt. Open to experienced scientists only, the rules are simple: explain your research in front of a live audience in ten minutes using a microphone as your only prop. The winner is chosen based on audience applause. Over the past eight years, the concept has already caught on in sixteen countries including the United States. In fact, physicians working at Fermilab - the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory - in the United States now pit their wits against each other every year at a Physics Slam.

Dance for science

This hilarious competition was launched in the United States in 2007. Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the academic journal Science, Dance your PhD is by far the most original contest to date. Rather than simply standing in front of a microphone and talking about their scientific research, participants put body and soul into their presentation by choreographing their thesis. Explaining the phenomenon of sperm competition between different donors through dance isn’t exactly easy! And yet… we’ll let you judge for yourself.

Three-minute thesis

With a similar concept to FameLabs, Three Minute Thesis challenges its participants to “make it short, simple and effective”. Launched at the University of Queensland in Australia in 2008, this competition is aimed at PhD students looking to present their research to the general public. Since then, the format has gone global. It has also proven to be particularly popular with women. Out of fourteen finalists in the French version this year, eleven were women, including all three podium placers and the winner of the audience award. “You have to put a huge amount of effort into it,” explained Chrystelle Armata in the French newspaper, Le Figaro. “You need to choose your words carefully to explain what you do, but in a fun way.”

The event has become extremely successful in a very short amount of time: Just look at the number of participating universities from last year, when the competition was first launched in France (1 university), to this year (22 universities).

With just a few minutes available to you, there’s no time to bore your audience. Thanks to these initiatives, science is becoming more and more accessible to the general public. We’re looking forward to what new concepts may emerge in the future! Anyone interest in Rapping Your Thesis

Updated September 26, 2014:

And the results are in! Two women, Noémie Mermet and Marie-Charlotte Morin, brought home the first and second-place prizes, respectively, at the 2014 3-Minute Thesis international finals held on September 25th in Montreal. Marie-Charlotte Morin also won the audience choice award.

Photo credit: Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

For Women in Science

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