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19 June 2017

Observations from the 3Minute Thesis Judge’s Chair

By Rob Baker

Editor’s Note: The success of Canada’s 3MT 2017 is due in part to the thoughtful, professional deliberations of our judges. CBC Radio producers Tom Howell and Nicola Luksic, engineer/entrepreneur Ian Baines, and Tragically Hip guitarist Rob Baker. We are grateful for their participation.

In this short piece, Baker shares his thoughts on the competition and the wonderful people who take part. He also adds a bit of advice for future competitors.

This year marked my fifth year judging the 3MT Ontario Finals and my second year judging the 3MT National Finals.

It does not get less interesting or exciting; on the contrary, the field of competitors has gotten consistently stronger and choosing a ‘winner’ from such an accomplished field has only gotten harder each year.

What the winning presentations brought was a clear command of their subject, a clear and concise presentation about what they were doing, why they were doing it and why we should care. What also distinguishes a presentation is the enthusiasm of the presenter.

Shantanu Krishna Kumar was able to connect with his audience about why they should care - how his research will affect the lives of farmers and consumers around the world, and because we feel his enthusiasm we follow him through the science which he presented clearly without getting bogged down in the chemistry details.

Richard Kil’s presentation was calm, authoritative and methodical. In 3 minutes, he led us through why he got involved in this research, how it could make a difference, through the trials and results, to a conclusion that should make our hearts soar with hope for many of the worlds most vulnerable.

I am so proud to be associated with 3MT and to have participated as a judge, multiple times. I hope my involvement will continue. What excites me the most about 3MT is the natural high, the sense of well being it gives me to know what intelligence and compassion will be leading our world in the years to come. We are indeed in good hands.

If I had advice for future competitors it would be to find a way to be comfortable onstage. I know from experience that it can be difficult to relax and be yourself when you are in the spotlight, but it is the most relaxed, least self-conscious presenters that rise to the top. Many presenters have clearly been coached on projecting their voices and using their hands expressively - even on using the space on stage to make a point. While these may seem like logical things to concentrate on the performer runs the risk of looking stiff, stilted, over-rehearsed and unnatural. The microphone will project for you so there is no need to raise one’s voice, unless you are genuinely excited. Calm confidence is the order of the day.