By Donald Inns
This year, the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) launched their first online early researchers conference, due to the ongoing pandemic, which I attended. The online conference conducted through zoom webinars consisted of a mix of academic and public engagement talks with events such as expert guest speaker presentation, quiz night, Pub PhDs, and three-minute thesis presentations. The 3MT competition is where doctoral researchers are given the challenge of explaining their research topic and significance in an entertaining and understandable way with only one PowerPoint slide. The winner of the competition is decided through a judging panel consisting of experts and wider public with the overall winner being awarded a prize for their brilliance!
The online format of a conference is a strange one, as a researcher, you won’t have that opportunity to network and communicate in the same way as you would in person but importantly as this conference has tried to do, the online aspect gives the organiser the opportunity to open such an event to the wider public and create events that can cater to helping understanding and events that are also perhaps more enjoyable for the general public. This requires much more marketing to increase public participation and clear direction as to which events are for who, which I found slightly lacking in the delegate packages for the overall event. However, this can be easily changed for future events.
The 3MT competition itself was a thoroughly enjoyable event with the speakers disseminating their research in a quick but understandable manner (although, it’s always horrible when a speaker gets cut short when they run out of time!). Despite being online, a good aspect of this is the event has been recorded and is available to watch anytime from home, so it isn’t the one off that most events are – therefore, this can reach a larger audience.
The audience can still be treated to some quick bite-sized amounts of science (although a couple of competitors didn’t completely break down their work due to timing) it can overall be a good fun way of getting a snapshot of different science and also why the individuals research is important which is important for public engagement as the public can then relate to this. However, this is all a 3MT can give, a snapshot. The event doesn’t lend itself to a real strong two-way engagement where members of the general public can feel like they can contribute or have a hands-on approach to learning.
Overall, I felt that the 3MT competition can be a fun way of getting science across quickly with a competitive edge. It can give a quick snapshot into why an individual’s research is important and breaks down the science into something that is understandable for a wider audience. However, such an event won’t lend itself to strong public engagement and I would suggest that it would be good to have 3MT amongst other events to create a good variety rather than a standalone event.