February 5, 2019

Stories from the stage: Sharing the 3MT experience

Kaitlin East garnered second place at McMaster's 2018 3MT, with her presentation Stress, Death and Dying. The anthropology student plans to complete her PhD – under the supervision of professor and Canada Research Chair Megan Brickley – by the end of 2019. We asked Kaitlin to share her thoughts on the Three Minute Thesis and its impact on her graduate journey.

Tell us about your research

I study stress hormones in ancient and modern populations to investigate the experience of dying in a cross-cultural, diachronic perspective. I extract cortisol from human hair, which grows at a constant rate and reflects monthly averages of stress hormone exposure. I then compare the stress experience of people dying of different causes across time and within time periods to explore trends in the experience of dying. I hope these results can be used to shed light on broad trends of causes of death in past populations and help unravel the ways in which death shapes archaeological death assemblages and the conclusions we draw from them. 

Why did you choose to participate in the Three Minute Thesis?

I love talking about my research! I also thought it would be a great opportunity to be forced to organize all of my thoughts about my research in a brief and clear way, and practice my presentation skills.

How far in advance of the competition did you begin preparing your presentation?

I started casually thinking about ideas and putting together a script following the info session last year, so about two months in advance. But I really got down to working on my script about a month before and practicing my performance in the 2-3 weeks before the competition.

When preparing your presentation, what worked for you? What didn’t?

Initially I worked on multiple drafts, very casually, on my own. I went to all the info sessions, I watched past presenters, and tried to create a script that followed a format that worked for past competitors. I had a few friends with some theatre experience read my script after that. While working on the script, I also worked on my slide which I had some of my friends look over and critique for me. I also worked with John Bandler to practice the performance of my script, maybe three or four times, and gave one presentation to a group of people from my department who were also competing in the 3MT.

How has the 3MT experience benefitted you?

I really enjoyed the competition; it certainly gave me a bit of a confidence boost and helped my family understand my research! It also helped me organize and distill my research into its essential components, which improved the way I talk and write about my research. 

Do you believe the experience will help you in the long-term? How?

I think I gained confidence to speak in front of a crowd. Also, I developed an ability to talk about my research in an interesting and succinct fashion – a skill that will definitely help me in communicating in and outside of academia.  

Would you recommend that researchers in the Social Sciences and Humanities take part in the 3MT competition?

Absolutely! I think the stories we have to tell from the social sciences and humanities are so interesting, unique and relevant to so many people. We have the opportunity to share stories that a public audience can relate to, and potentially, have never even thought about.