(front) Phoebe Tang (right) and
Professor Charles Schencking
(left) after the prize
presentation ceremony
of the HKU 3MT 2013

Phoebe Tang Yin-hang was the 1st Runner-Up and People's Choice Award winner at the HKU Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition 2013 for her impassioned presentation on NASA's efforts in the 1960s to secure popular support for its ambitious space exploration plan, Skylab. But as she will tell you, she was not the only person on stage.

Her presentation was honed after much feedback from members of the Department of History, including her MPhil supervisor and the Chairperson of History, Professor Charles Schencking, the department's Postgraduate Co-ordinator Professor John Carroll, and Research Assistant Professor, Dr Janet Borland. Fellow postgraduate students also watched her practice and provided invaluable comments on the content as well as delivery of her presentation.

Professor Schencking said the department threw their weight behind 3MT because of the value they saw in the exercise.

"At university, we train people to be good researchers, to be good writers, to ask good questions. We don't often train them to synthesise or distil their thesis in a very passionate and persuasive way. So 3MT is a great supplement to their postgraduate training," he said.

"It's also an important skill because people have very short attention spans. I want our postgraduate students to really make an impression when they go for job interviews, and when they tell people outside that they are from HKU and this is what they are doing."

Each of the academics gave Phoebe feedback on her script and also helped in her presentation. Professor Carroll organised the session with other students which not only improved Phoebe's presentation but showed those students the importance of communicating their thesis in a concise way.

Dr Borland gave her tips on such things as the words to emphasise, gestures and the use of eye contact to help Phoebe connect with the audience.

Phoebe was also encouraged to avoid language that was too academic and to relay the relevance of her research to people today. "Her research resonates with how big organisations today try to get money for their projects and have to be innovative in selling them," Professor Schencking said.

Phoebe said the approach worked as hoped: she emerged with sharper ideas about her thesis. "I'm thinking of putting some of my script into my thesis now because it's much clearer than before," she said.

Professor Schencking said he would encourage every postgraduate student in the Department of History to participate in 3MT. Having a team behind them, and not just a single supervisor, helps them get the most out of sharing their knowledge with a wider audience.