Laura Kovac did exactly what most of us fear doing more than death – she froze during her 3MT finals presentation. Mid-sentence, she drew a blank.
She smiled graciously and returned to her seat alongside the other finalists, who immediately reached out to her with a consoling gesture. Laura chose to override an impulse to flee. Instead, she stayed to cheer on her colleagues, socialize and take part in the photo ops.
Having advanced to Brock University’s 3MT finals, Laura had already experienced the satisfaction and success of a well-delivered 3MT presentation. Earlier in the day she rehearsed without a glitch, and only weeks before she had delivered her talk to a similarly large audience. A few weeks later, she would learn that she was one of the 35 SSHRC’s Storytellers and earned an “Honourable Mention.”
Months later, sitting across from me, she is beaming about her experience. She refers to that day as her “most fantastic failure. I’ve done what most people never get the chance to do in their entire life!” she declares. Listening to Laura unpack the exact moment when the words stopped, as she became silenced by fear and how this fuels a new fascination for learning mindful practices, resonated with me in a number of ways.
She now ranks this experience, along with her teaching and research assistant roles, as the most rewarding – providing her with a solid set of communication and facilitation skills. Pursuing a career outside of academe, Laura frequently showcases her 3MT experience on her resumé. She says that it always stands out and frequently piques an employer’s curiosity.
As a professional development program coordinator in the faculty of graduate studies at Brock, I work alongside a collaborative of students, staff and faculty who have been creating co-curricular professional development programs like 3MT to complement the relatively new spade of research communication challenges. Mindful of an aim to better serve all grad students’ professional development goals as they pursue a range of possible employment futures, we have made a few programmatic “reframes” of our own. I’ve outlined just a few below that you may consider as you integrate new features into your professional development programming.
From purely an academic competition to a personal/professional/academic challenge
We changed the conversation and language from a “competition” to a personal/professional presentation “challenge.” We promote the professional development value (collaborative learning process, professional coaching, professional incentives) as well as the academic cachet of participating in the 3MT preliminary and final events. Students have said that they feel they are treated as colleagues engaged in a self-directed professional development pursuit, not merely as competitors.
From “submitting an abstract” to becoming part of a professional development community
We promote all communication challenges early in the fall term and invite students across all faculties to enrol in a two term researcher communications workshop series, delivered by various faculty, staff and students covering a range of communication topics (knowledge translation planning, media 101, etc.).
Students who submit a 3MT abstract are invited to take part in a series of one-hour collaborative coaching workshops (meaning they workshop their script with other 3MT participants) that specifically address the preparation of performance friendly text. Six weeks prior to the 3MT preliminary event, we host actor Julia Course, who offers a workshop entitled “Performing the Text” to help students rehearse techniques to enhance their performance.
Multiple meaningful professional incentives/rewards
All students participating in one of the research communication challenges and/or the workshop series earn experiential and professional development credits (The Vitae Researcher Communications Certificate). Even if they don’t advance, all students participating in the preliminary round receive a video of their presentation that serves as a digital business card.
In addition to cash prizes and academic cachet, those that advance to the 3MT finals and provincial event are offered coaching to finesse their presentation. In an effort to foster mentorship, professionalism and a sense of community, 3MT participants from previous years are encouraged to take on leadership roles; coaching, adjudicating (graduate and undergraduate communication challenges) and are sometimes even event hosts.
Inspired by Laura’s “fantastic failure” and the experiences of other grad students, I am reminded of the enduring experiential value for all students who deeply engage in high impact (or high stakes) graduate experiences.