Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) Trans-Tasman Finals 2014: Stephanie-Anne’s Story

Author: Stephanie-Anne Croft, Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies, School of Engineering

After weeks of preparation, I finally arrived in Perth on the 1st of November. The seven and a half hour trip seemed so quick aboard Air New Zealand’s Dreamliner plane – great service, cool new plane features and not bad meals. My husband Malcolm and I were welcomed by 30°C and flies, the “Aussie salute” is soon to be a fly-shooing technique I will master.

We stayed at the St. Catherine’s College accommodation, which was just across the road from the University Of Western Australia (UWA). The building looked like a hotel and the accommodation was excellent. We went for a walk around UWA the next day and it was very impressive. The 65-hectare campus is set beside the Swan River with awesome Victorian, Mediterranean and gothic-style buildings, gardens, a cricket oval and wild birds, including peacocks that wander about the grounds like the pukekos in Auckland. There was a sign that says “It is with beauty that we welcome wisdom” and how true that is.

The semi-finals and finals were held at the Octagon theatre the next day. There were four semi-final sessions, with 12 universities presenting each session, a total of 48 universities from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. I was on the third session so I got to sit in the theatre to watch the first, second and last semi-finals. The theatre was huge but had an intimate feel to it with its crimson seats that tiered towards the dark floored stage. Everyone was excited and I got to chat with some of the other competitors before the start.

We were welcomed by the Dean of Postgraduate Studies who acknowledged the Nyungar people indigenous to the area and addressed us in the Nyungar language. The first session was kicked off by the UWA student, Bronwyn, and she was remarkable. In fact, after watching the first three, including University of Canterbury’s representative, Anna, I was duly impressed. The calibre of the contestants was of a higher level – everyone was polished, precise, passionate, and out there to win. It IS a competition at the end of the day.

Before my session started, we had to go to another building which was like a “dressing room” backstage. The other 11 contestants were there including Monica from Waikato University. I was nervous but excited at the same time. There was a screen monitor in the room so we can see the presentations but no one was really watching. We all had our game faces on and everyone was just trying to focus. I was calm but also just bursting to go. I was led towards the back of the stage to be hooked up with the microphone.

It felt a little like “The Voice” or “NZ’s Got Talent” – I think it was the black curtain backstage, and the hand-shaking nervous gestures I was then starting to do. Just before my turn, I took 3 deep breaths, smiled and listened as the emcee read out my supervisors’ names and then introduced me. I was tapped on the shoulder by Jo, the official hand-holder, cheerleader and hugger of the 3MT competition, as a signal it was time for me to walk out to the stage. I looked up to make sure my slide was up and walked towards the white “x” mark on the middle of the stage. Wow, this is it. This is my 3 minutes to tell everyone what I will be spending the next few years of my life on. I delivered my presentation the way I have practiced it, I felt confident and the nerves were gone by then. There was a point in the middle of my presentation where I was just looking at the audience and thought, this is pretty cool. My lips were moving at the same time so I’m sure it was all the rehearsing that made that possible – another PhD topic perhaps?

After the applause, I walked back to the dressing room and felt a huge sense of relief. That it was all over and that I delivered my talk the way I wanted to. I have spent many nights imagining all the worst-case scenarios I could think of which ranged from wardrobe malfunction, tripping, technical issues, mind going blank, even swallowing a fly (which was not that impossible given we were in Perth).

Then it was time to announce the finalists. Instead of reading out the contestants’ names and universities, the judge only read out the university names. My heart skipped a beat when she said “ANU” (so close!), then five other universities, and since there were only ten finalists, I was starting to think maybe I didn’t get through. There was a moment of confusion for me when she read out Auckland University … but then… of Technology, AUT University! It sounded so sweet to my ears. It was really a proud moment. I thought, yes, that’s us. We are AUT. And we’re through to the finals. I was the only New Zealand university to go through and the support of the other Kiwi competitors was amazing, even Tracy, the dean from Massey University. I became their representative. I became the New Zealand finalist. And I was so proud seeing AUT up on the screen with the other nine universities. I honestly felt quite emotional. I know it’s just a competition, but it felt more than that to me that day. It felt like we were telling the rest of the world that we are a university that can stand proudly with the rest of the other prestigious universities like UWA.

After a short break we all had to go on stage for photographs and the finals session was started. We presented in the same order as the semis. I was the eighth contestant to present. This time I felt more determined, more passionate – I wanted to win. Walking back to the dressing room, I thought, I nailed it! Whether I win or not, I will have no regrets because I gave it my best. The winners were announced and Sara from Curtin University won. She and I became friendly before the semis and we sat together during the competition. I was so happy for her. I wanted to win but I truly didn’t feel gutted. Because for me, any one of the ten finalists could have won. It was that good (and yes, that included me as well). But at the end of the day, it was left to the four judges’ decision and they made their choice. The ten of us went up the stage for photographs and then we all headed to the University Club for a sundowner. Drinks, food, laughter, congratulations – it was all over, we can all relax now and loosen up.

Overall, the competition was a great experience for me. I made lots of new friends who I will stay in touch with. One of the most memorable moments for me was when I thanked Dr. Krystyna Haq who organised the UWA finals. We talked for a bit and she said she always remembers AUT because a few years ago she sat with someone from the university during a conference in Europe and she asked if AUT will join the 3MT Trans-Tasman finals. She congratulated me for getting through to the finals and said that the night before the competition, she had been thinking of getting a knee replacement surgery done for her left knee, but after hearing my presentation, she said she will wait until I have my antibacterial paint ready. That was just so satisfying. I’m sure my supervisor Stephen Henry will love that story.

Thank you for allowing me to represent you. I am so proud to be a PhD student of AUT university.

About Graduate Research School (Auckland University of Technology)

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4 thoughts on “Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) Trans-Tasman Finals 2014: Stephanie-Anne’s Story

  1. Well done! As you mentioned the main reason for being there was to let others know about the importance of your work in next few years. Seems one of your key followers will be Dr. Krystyna Haq. Now one of your desires became real! Wishing you best of luck in your study!

  2. Hi Stephanie – although I wasn’t able to be there this year for the Symposium – I hear you were absolutely awesome. And obviously the judges thought so too when announcing your name for the semi’s. well done!! I felt like I was actually there with you – could visualise the atmosphere from your well written post!

    Yes, Krystyna is very good at keeping in touch with the University coordinators and I think the person she was referring to at a conference in Europe was possibly Madeline Banda (our Director). I remember because we were almost close to not entering the competition that year – but after Madeline spoke with Krystyna about the event, we have since then always entered.

    Again, well done to you and I’m glad the experience for you was rewarding. We look forward to contacting you next year to sit on the panel as a judge for the 2015 AUT 3MT competition! All the best,

    Annette Tiaiti

    1. Thank you, Annette! That’s right, it was Madeline Banda. Being part of the 3MT competition was a really rewarding experience and one I would recommend to postgraduate students.

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