Advice on Explaining Your Research to Others

02/17/2019 1:58 PM | Anonymous

Author: Daniel Shore

In the Spring of 2018, I won a competition (and cash prize!) being hosted by George Mason University called the 3-Minute Thesis (3MT). The idea behind the competition, which was first held at the University of Queensland and is now annually held at over 200 universities around the world, is to push PhD students (who have successfully proposed their dissertation) to distill their entire dissertation into a succinct 3-minute pitch. The pitch must clearly and engagingly explain their work to a lay audience. The goal of the competition is to enhance presentation and communications skills for doctoral students.

As a doctoral student in an applied field such as I/O Psychology, I view it as imperative that I can communicate with those outside of the academic world about I/O research. In particular, my line of research in graduate school has focused on the “unintended consequences of employee recognition” (that’s the opening to my elevator pitch). Thinking in lay terms, my 3MT pitch based on my dissertation was framed as, “how do those working hard react when those hardly working are rewarded?”

Guided by the 3MT guidelines, my pitch had three sections. Below, I share some excerpts from the script I wrote for my presentation.

Section #1: Connect to the audience with a relatable analogy for the research concept.

“IMAGINE. You’re assigned a partner on a class project. And YOU end up doing all of the work. You submit the project with both names on it. You get an A for all the hard work you did. They get an A for all the hard work…you did. Project #2. Same partner. This time, you start by assigning tasks. And immediately, your partner starts… asking you for help on their tasks. A lot. So then you have to decide how and how much do you help. And are you willing to keep working with them on Project 3? Or 4? Or what about a 6 month project when they’re your co-worker?”

Section #2: Explain the study design.

“I examine two personality traits. One trait is how strongly you feel that that your rewards should be proportionate to the work that you put in. A second trait is how sensitive you are to fairness in team settings. I measure these with a survey at the beginning and then the fun begins. It’s a Lego building activity where a participant works with an undercover research assistant of mine. On Task 1, my assistant barely helps. After completion, rewards are given, and my assistant, gets a larger reward. Overclaiming when underperforming. In Task 2, they work separately, and my assistant asks for help. A lot of help.”

Section #3: Bring it back home with the WHY for why the research matters at all.

“In some industries such as tech, where a majority of employees are already Millenials, recent surveys have shown that over 1/3 of employees who are quitting their jobs are quitting because of…unfair treatment. So, we need to make sure that employees perceive their treatment as being fair which means becoming more aware about what practices induce these feelings and understanding how and why employees perceive fairness differently…If we want them to stop quitting their jobs.“

The full video of my 3MT pitch, if you have time for a 180-second break, can be seen here:

Feel free to reach out ( if you want to talk more about distilling your research and/or if you are interested in entering your university’s 3MT competition!

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