3 Bordeaux Neurocampus PhD students in the ‘My thesis in 180 seconds’ final of the University of Bordeaux
The ‘My thesis in 180 seconds’ (MT180S) competition is aimed at PhD students and challenges them to present their research topic in simple terms, and thus easily understandable by a broad and diverse audience, in 3 minutes. Each participant must make a clear, concise and yet convincing presentation of their research project with only one slide at their disposal. Beyond the competition, it is also an opportunity for these young researchers to learn how to communicate and popularise their passion for research. We interviewed Urielle (Synapse et Cognition team, IINS), Laura (Addiction team, SanPsy) and Yolaine (Neuroimaging and human cognition team, INCIA) who made it to the finals!
- How did you know about MT180S and why did you participate?
Urielle: I don't really remember how I heard about it, because it was several years ago. It was probably at the same time I heard about the Declics operation, that consist in going in high schools and talk about our research with students. But when I discovered it I definitely told myself, "oh I should do it", because it seemed to be a very nice and challenging experience.
I think scientists have an important role in society to understand how things work. However, most of the time, they are just sharing the discovery among the scientific society because they know how to do it. But not with the non-scientific society, as the exercise is pretty tough and as we are not trained for that. So MT180S is a good opportunity to make a step in that way, to learn how to communicate our science, and also to challenge us and see if the challenge is fully accomplished or not. Besides, I really like the exercise of talking about science to the mainstream audience, and I will probably orientate my career in that way, so participating in MT180s was kind of an evidence for me.
Laura: I knew about the MT180S at the beginning of the PhD students' year at the University of Bordeaux. A candidate from the previous year had come to give a presentation on a subject that was completely unknown to me, I understood everything and I loved it.
I participated twice, first in 2020 where I received the People's Choice Award and I was lucky enough to participate again in 2021. In 2020, I did it mainly for the challenge. I love science outreach, I watch a lot of videos on Youtube from popularizers like Dirtybiology, e-penser, etc. However, I had never done any training or mediation in a "professional" setting. So I wanted to know if I was able to do it, if I was good at it, if I really enjoyed it when I was the person popularizing the subject. This year, I did it for the fun of it, because the team is very nice, because I had made friends last year and also so that my thesis subject, which affects young people a lot, would have some visibility.
Yolaine: I know MT180S thanks to friends whom already participated in previous years. I wanted to participate because I wanted to make something fun. The "COVID" period we are living in allows us only to present ourselves by Zoom. All conferences are postponed or virtual and I felt quite frustrated about this situation. I feel like the current situation stole all "fun events" of my PhD and this is one of the reasons why I choose to participate to MT180S. Also, I wanted to do this training to challenge myself to speak in front of a jury and public. It is not so easy to resume in popular terms our PhD subject, to make it comprehensible and interesting for everyone. And finally, I wanted to transmit to teenagers that PhD’s could be cool and fun. I love what I'm doing and honestly before starting my PhD I thought "I'll going to pass 3 years in hell". But believe me, this is not the case at all! I really like my days in the lab and the hospital. It's always passionate and not any two days are the same. So, in short, I wanted to transmit my passion and maybe make young people discover PhD(-life) from another angle.
- How did you prepare for your presentation?
U.: We were trained by the university to work our text and how to speak clearly, with the right pauses and intonations for 2 sessions. Then, we had a rehearsal on stage to get used to it and work on our physical positioning and gestures. So the first step for me was really to think about my text, how I wanted to present my subject, which kind of act I wanted to perform (funny, interactive, striking etc..). Before the writing, I began to watch the performance of participants from previous year... Such a bad idea! It stressed me out pretty fast so I stopped this strategy after 3 or 4 videos... And I tried to write something that fits me personally. Once I thought that it started to look like something acceptable, I asked advice from my scientific colleagues and non-scientific friends and family of all ages. Then I adapted a version based on their feedback. Once I was kind of happy with my text I repeated it several every time that I had 3min free time. So in the lab, under the shower, on the road to the lab, really any moment that was long enough. When I had the occasion, I also repeated it in front of a mirror to work my face expressions and gestures, and when the auditorium of our institute was free I went there to try to be in the conditions of the contest. And there you go!
L.: I worked mostly on my own trying to come up with a metaphor idea that made me laugh. I made a first draft that was read and re-read by my boyfriend, his colleagues, my colleagues in the lab, etc. Then it was more of a team effort. Until the text was understandable and interesting. And since I didn't have any new bright ideas in 2021, I kept the same text as last year.
For the oral, I rehearsed my text maybe 4 times a day for a month in 2020. Mostly alone in front of the mirror, but also in the hospital department where I work, in front of my colleagues and of course with my boyfriend. This year it was different, I already knew it well, I practiced much less. I think that the sanitary conditions (absence of public) and the weariness of repeating the same thing played a lot on it.
Y.: I prepared my presentation with the MT180S trainers.
- What was the most difficult? And the easiest?
U.: The most difficult for me was to challenge myself to talk about my subject in front of others, because I never really feel confident and legitimate when I talk about science. And participating to MT180s is kind of laying yourself bare... So writing my text was really a lot of stress and work for me, I always found something to think that my text was nonsense. But the participants were really kind, and they are giving you the confidence you need, so at the end you start to believe that you did a good job on your text. By the way, I am really thankful for their kindness and feedback! And paradoxically, the easiest for me was to speak (stress apart of course), not talking about my subject itself but the way I had to speak, move on the stage and my gestures. Maybe it came from my many years as an activity leader during which you always have to talk in front of teenagers, and even sometimes play a role... But of course it came with stress!!!
L.: The most difficult part for me was the verbal part because I usually don't articulate enough, I don't speak loud enough, I can have a rather monotone speech. I worked on all that thanks to the advice given by Delphine and Renaud. The easiest thing was to find a funny idea and to write it down because trying to explain complex science concepts with metaphors and jokes to non-scientists is already something I do with my entourage, as this part gives me the most pleasure.
Y.: The most difficult for me was the speech. Unfortunately, my subject is not very fun. When we finally got the speech ready, we also need to be natural and comfortable as in a stand up show. Not so easy. The easy part was to talk about something I like, because even if it's not a "funny" subject (the post stroke depression), it is for me a very interesting subject. And for once I could explain it in comprehensible sentences for my family and friends.
- Any advice for future applicants?
U.: From what I heard, the jury started to get bored/upset of "standardized" presentations, so I would advise to not look (at all or too much) at performances from previous years. Besides the threat of standardization, it will stress you for sure, and at some point you will ask yourself why you got involved in this experience (and that would be sad as it is a really nice one to live). Also take into account advices you could have from others, even if for you there's nothing to change, most of time they will have some valuable feedback. And finally, have FUN!!! Really, there is not much at stake, it is full of good vibes, so just enjoy the experience! You'll get friends out of this (at least it's the case for me)!
L.: I would advise them to take it as a personal challenge and/or as a fun exercise. It doesn't matter if you get a prize or not. The goal is to write a text that you like, that resembles you, that makes you laugh, that speaks to you, etc. and to just present it with your personality, if you are not a good actor, who cares. The main thing is to get a message across, to interest young people and make them have a good time, getting away from the clichés that say science is complicated and boring. Just have fun.
Y.: Do it! If you hesitate to do it because you are shy and/or uncomfortable with public presentation, this is a really a good exercise. Everybody is there to help you, even the other "competitors". This year, in any case, I felt that it was a respectful competition where everybody tried to help everyone in all kindness.