Megan Burfoot on her 3MT Asia-Pacific Top 8 Success

AUT’s doctoral 3 Minute Thesis winner Megan Burfoot has gone on to great things… including a top 8 placing in the 2020 Asia-Pacific 3MT Finals!

Megan’s achievement is all the more remarkable because of how many doctoral competitors there were this year. “I felt very proud of myself,” Megan says. “I heard that some universities had hundreds of entries, and there were 54 universities in the competition, so I couldn’t really believe I had made the top 8 of this group.”

Those who attended AUT’s 3MT finals may remember Megan’s impactful presentation about her research into classroom acoustics. Megan has developed a responsive louvre system that automatically adjusts the acoustics in classrooms to suit different teaching and learning activities. Her research investigates how the system works in a variety of classroom contexts. Not only will she earn a PhD for this work, she will also have a lot of useful data to inform the further development and (hopefully) implementation of her system in classrooms.

Megan Burfoot in her 3MT Asia-Pacific presentation

Megan’s 3MT presentation (which you can watch here) described this work in simple terms. She understood that 3MT is about communicating to people who aren’t experts. Unlike a conference presentation, a 3MT presentation needs to be pitched to educated laypeople. For Megan, this meant using the power of narrative. “It’s so important to tell a story of your research, in the correct order, with the correct emphasis on the important parts.”

One of Megan’s tactics was to use the power of analogy. By comparing classrooms to cocoons, Megan helped audience members to recognise why the right auditory environment is crucial for children’s development. “People without the specific field knowledge want to know more about your research,” Megan says, “but they can only gain interest if it’s explained in ways that anyone can understand.”

Megan’s 3MT slide illustrated her louvre system and its functionality in the classroom context

She also adopted a philosophy of perpetual improvement. “Between each competition round we received about 2 weeks to revise and re-submit a video submission… I would re-write my speech with the judges’ feedback in mind, check the timing of what I had written, and adjust from there.” This meant scripting, filming, and editing her presentation 3 times in all!

Megan’s research journey continues. Because her acoustic technology has a great potential for impact in schools, she is focused on the endgame: a finished thesis and a pathway toward implementing her louvre system. “I need to continue with my research and get final data to analyse. I will then present this to the Ministry of Education, and go from there,” Megan says.

But as she moves forward, she brings with her the benefit of her new 3MT research community: “the 3MT competition gave me a sense of connection with other research students around Asia-Pacific. Everyone has such interesting research, but its rare to get an opportunity to learn about it all in the course of just a few nights. I no longer felt so alone in the doctoral research path.”

What advice would Megan give to other students preparing to compete in 3MT? “Write your speech by speaking it,” she advises. “Then you will know instantly how it sounds, and what to say next that will flow and sound best. Practise your first draft in front of a general audience, and ask them at which points they got lost or left behind in your speech. Go back, re-write, and practise again but this time with a different audience. You know the feedback you get will then be authentic and not biased in any way.”

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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