August 28, 2023, by Lisa Chin

💡 Minds to Masses: UNM 2023 3MT® crowns its winners

Mastering the art of research communication: The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) challenge 💡

In a world brimming with intricate knowledge, the power of effective communication stands as a beacon of understanding. Whether in everyday conversations or within the corridors of academia and research labs, the ability to simplify intricate matters emerges as an imperative skill. Yet, mastering this art is no simple feat.

As the brilliant Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This sentiment resonates with researchers who endeavour to bridge the gap between specialised knowledge and wider audiences.

This is where the 3MT® competition comes in. Renowned for its fast-paced and engaging format, the competition challenges doctoral researchers to communicate the essence of their research to a wider audience using a single, static slide.

Through 3MT®, we celebrate the pursuit of excellence in research communication, as our PhD students embark on an exhilarating odyssey to distill their profound work into a captivating three-minute presentation.

Celebrating a decade of excellence 🎉

At UNM, a legacy of accomplishment thrives. Since its inauguration in 2013, the UNM 3MT® has witnessed five of its winners clinched the top spot, triumphing over fellow Nottingham campus winners in the tri-campus round, and went on to represent the entire Nottingham network at the U21 3MT® Competition.

Once again, we bore witness to an awe-inspiring showcase of transformative postgraduate research at our annual 3MT®, held on Wednesday 23 August 2023. 13 of our PhD students from diverse disciplines stepped into the spotlight, presenting their research and captivating the audience and judges alike. The competition served as a platform to showcase the exceptional research undertaken by our PhD students, highlighting the transformative potential of their work in addressing real-world challenges.

In a concise yet impactful welcome and introduction, our Provost and CEO, Professor Sarah Metcalfe, embodied the essence of the 3MT® concept by delivering her own 3-minute speech. She underscored the often overlooked significance of effective research communication and emphasised that in the pursuit of impactful research, the art of concise communication is paramount, where brevity can magnify impact.

“We all know how important research is. It’s what excites us. It’s what drives our understanding of the world, the new technologies that we need to make things better in the future. Perhaps what we think about less often is how we communicate research. We are very familiar with the idea of communicating with our peers. But actually, we need to think about how we communicate our research more generally to a wider audience. If we want our research to have impact, we have to be able to do that. And in the world where people’s attention spans seems to get shorter and shorter, you need to be able to do that in a very short period of time. Hence, the Three Minute Thesis. So what that means is we have to be able to draw out the key points, highlight why our work matters. And being able to communicate succinctly is a real skill. It’s not just important in terms of you communicating your research, but actually it’s a transferable skill to a whole variety of contexts. Because if you can do this, you can summarise anything to anybody. And in my experience, less is often more.”

Professor Sarah Metcalfe

The atmosphere brimmed with excitement as the audience was treated with a diverse array of thought-provoking presentations. Our students exhibited a unique blend of eloquence and technical prowess, making the task of the esteemed panel of judges all the more challenging. This panel, representing both academic and professional services, included Ms Dorcas Lam, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; Dr Anita Chakrabarty, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; and Ms Sarah Soo, Head of Communications. Collectively, they determined the winner and runner ups.

From left: Ms Sarah Soo, Ms Dorcas Lam, and Dr Anita Chakrabarty.

“The three of us, none from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) background, make the perfect audience for your 3MT® presentations. You’ve all accomplished something remarkable – succinctly presenting years of work in just three minutes, staying within the time limit, and stepping out of your comfort zones to share your research,” said Ms Lam in her capacity as the head judge. In addition to offering constructive comments for improvements, she commended the use of relatable examples and metaphors, along with real-life scenarios, as effective means to connect and engage with the wider audience. “We commend your courage in taking on this challenge, and you should be proud of your accomplishments,” she concluded, leaving a message of encouragement.

Making their mark 🏆

Amidst the atmosphere of anticipation, the winner and runner ups were unveiled in a thrilling award ceremony. The accolades were presented by our Vice Provost for Research and Knowledge Exchange, Professor Christopher Gibbins.

“This event is focused on honing your communication skills. Congratulations to all participants – regardless of awards, as the essence lies in the learning and growth. The true essence here is to prompt you to think and implement effective communication strategies,” said Professor Gibbins in his closing address.


Securing the top honour was Masyitah binti Zulkipli from the School of Pharmacy, who captivated the judges with her enthralling presentation titled “Malay Ghost Lime: Myth or Hope?”. She illuminated the astounding medicinal properties of a hidden gem from our native rainforests – the ‘limau hantu‘ or ‘ghost lime’ (Burkillanthus malaccensis).

In her winning presentation, Masyitah wove a narrative reflecting the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, spotlighting the rapid evolution of germs, and the necessity for innovative solutions. Addressing the rising threat of superbugs, she described her research exploring the medicinal potential of the enigmatic ‘ghost lime’. By combining its pure compounds with antibiotics, her research holds promise against drug-resistant bacteria and even Covid-19. Masyitah envisions her research as a beacon, underscoring the vast untapped potential of our rainforests for pioneering therapeutic approaches, a pivotal step in offering solutions to impending health crises.

Masyitah will now progress to the video round to compete against the other Nottingham campus winners. The ultimate winner will have the honour of representing the entire University of Nottingham in the U21 Final, also via video, which will be judged by an international panel of industry and academic professionals.

1st Runner Up

Taking the spot of 1st runner up was Natasha Zulaikha binti Zahirudin from the School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, who impressed the judges with her presentation titled “Coexisting with elephants”. Her captivating exploratory presentation delved into the intricate realm of human-elephant coexistence, revealing insights that hold the potential to transform conservation strategies.

Natasha cast a spotlight on the escalating conflicts between humans and wildlife in tropical Asia, with a specific focus on Malaysia where elephant habitats are dwindling. Drawing on surveys and interviews, her research is poised to uncover the underlying psychological factors influencing people’s readiness to coexist with elephants, particularly in agriculture contexts, with the aim of developing effective conflict mitigation strategies. Natasha envisions her research extends beyond the realm of elephant conflicts, addressing broader wildlife conservation challenges, a crucial step towards fostering a sustainable coexistence between human communities and the magnificent wildlife that shares our environment.

2nd Runner Up

Taking the spot of 2nd runner up was Adriel Tan Yan Sheng from the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering with his presentation artfully titled “Iron Ion Water Pollution: When You Should Not Love 3000”. His intriguing presentation struck a chord with its relatable content and profound message on a fundamental aspect of human life – clean water.

In an engaging narrative that began with a simple daily routine – brushing teeth – Adriel’s presentation brought to light the pressing issue of iron contamination in water. Adriel described his research developing a photoelectrochemical sensor using light to detect iron ions in water, with the aim to detect them even before visible discoloration occurs, offering a proactive approach to safeguarding water quality. He envisions his research not only as a preemptive approach for clean water but also as a potential advancement leading to a safer, healthier future, where the simple act of turning on the tap does not pose a hidden threat.

Unveiling the extraordinary Class of 2023 🌟

From dissecting the truth behind protein supplements to pioneering bone healing technologies, from reimagining cancer therapy to addressing water pollution, here is a complete overview of the exceptional PhD students who have made their mark as part of this year’s outstanding lineup.

Celebrating successes 

“At the Graduate School, we extend our heartfelt congratulations to Masyitah, Natasha and Adriel for their exceptional performances. We also commend the entire Class of 2023 for their commendable efforts,” praised Professor Maniam Kaliannan, Associate Dean of Graduate School. “Their ability to translate their research into concise and impactful presentations showcases the power of effective science communication.”

The success of the 3MT® competition underscores our unwavering commitment to nurturing a culture of excellence in postgraduate research, and empowering postgraduate researchers to become effective communicators of their work. The competition serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative potential of research in shaping a brighter future for our world.

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