Learning the Secrets of
Effective Knowledge Exchange
  Training for young researchers has equipped them to convey their ideas to the public and get their innovations to market.
Awardees and finalists of the 3MT Competition with Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Tam (middle in the front row) and members of the adjudicating panel Home
 

As researchers, we really have the responsibility to make our knowledge accessible and readily understandable to the general public.

Professor Paul Tam  

 

Take three years of research, condense it down to three minutes and present it to a room of strangers, some of whom are there to judge you. That’s the tension-inducing premise of 3MT – the Three Minute Thesis Competition.

3MT was introduced to HKU from Australia last year as part of the University’s efforts to improve students’ abilities in knowledge exchange.

Twenty-eight research postgraduate students put themselves to the test this year, offering concise and at times entertaining summaries on complex topics such as sexual selection, robotics, stem cells, visual perception, etc.

“Researchers need to engage people outside academia, through the process of knowledge exchange, in order to maximise the impact of their research,” says Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Tam.

“Think about the moment you saw a natural disaster on TV; read about a controversial legal or public policy issue; or heard the news of a potential infectious disease outbreak involving an unknown virus. What the media, or most people, want to know almost immediately is likely the views of an expert from a top university like HKU.”

“As researchers, we really have the responsibility to make our knowledge accessible and readily understandable to the general public. This conviction is shared by researchers around the world, although frankly, it is not an easy task to explain our research findings in straightforward, layman language. Even experienced researchers are often at a loss for words.”

 

Useful practice

Exercises like the 3MT give them practice to develop their skills.

The champion this year, Terence Ng Pun-tung, a PhD candidate in Science, gave an amusing argument against Charles Darwin’s contention that sexual selection of the best mates applied only to large animals. He looked at snails and showed that they can also be both competitive and choosy in deciding on a mate.

“I often told my friends that I filmed ‘Category III’ movies of snails in the laboratory. It made them laugh. But then they would ask me about the contributions of this work to science or society. At the beginning of my PhD study, I could not give a simple and neat answer to this and I felt really ashamed. I knew I was working on an interesting and important subject, but I couldn’t find a good way to explain this,” Terence says.

“It is likely that most research students may encounter a similar situation and hence having a well-prepared ‘three-minute’ thesis description in ‘your pocket’ would be useful.”

Zhang Yingying, a PhD candidate in Medicine, presented on her stem cell research, which forced her to avoid the technical jargon she typically used to describe her work.

“If I hadn’t participated in this competition, I would never have realised that I had difficulty in describing my research project in layman language,” she says. She clearly overcame that hurdle as she won the competition’s Online People’s Choice Award.

Entrepreneurship Academy

3MT was organised by the Knowledge Exchange Office in cooperation with the Graduate School. The University also runs a programme to develop students’ abilities in another area of knowledge
exchange – getting ideas to market.

The Entrepreneurship Academy, offered by the Technology Transfer Office, provides training to young researchers on designing a business model, launching a start-up, accounting and other practical skills related to entrepreneurship. It features tailored workshops led by academics of the Faculty of Business and Economics and seasoned practitioners from the corporate world.

The Academy is offered early in the calendar year and open to research staff, research postgraduate students and alumni of related postgraduate programmes.

Professor Tam says the goal in both the Entrepreneurship Academy and 3MT is similar. “We want to sow the seeds of knowledge exchange among students and we want them to see the value of developing skill sets that will help them communicate and advance their ideas.” end

  Terence Ng Pun-tung, PhD candidate in the Faculty of Science, Champion and the winner of the People’s Choice Award of 3MT Competition 2012
Terence Ng Pun-tung, PhD candidate in the Faculty of Science, Champion and the winner of the People’s Choice Award of 3MT Competition 2012