Omnibus prik

PhD student from AU wins international final of Three Minute Thesis

On 1 June, Ida Cecilie Jensen, who is a PhD student at the Department of Ecoscience, won the international final of this year’s research communication competition Three Minute Thesis. It’s the second year in a row that a PhD student from Aarhus University has taken the top spot.

Ida Cecilie Jensen won the 3MT final in Cologne, which the jury described as the best final to date. Photo: Lise Balsby

The jury

  • Professor Mikael Lindfelt, rector at Åbo Akademi University (Finland). Research areas: theology and philosophy
  • Professor Mireille Van Poppel, vice-rector for Internationalization and Equal Opportunities at the University of Graz (Austria). Research area: medical biology
  • Professor Pierre-Antoine Bonnet from the University of Montpellier (France), vice-chair of the Coimbra Group’s Life Sciences working group. Research area: pharmaceutical chemistry
  • Doctor Elisabeth Hoffmann, chief communication officer at the University of Cologne (Germany). Research area: knowledge communication
  • Professor Adriana Zait from Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi (Romania), chair of the Coimbra Group’s Doctoral Studies working group. Research area: economics

On the first day of summer this year, Ida Cecilie Jensen took to the stage for the second time in this year’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. This time in the international final in Cologne, where she and two other PhD students – one from Jena and one from Edinburgh – had to present their research project for the last time. The format was the same as in Aarhus in March: Present your project in less than three minutes using only one slide. And only in speech – no rapping, singing or verse. The first slide to fill the big screen was familiar to those who have followed the ant queen of Aarhus. An upscaled ant on a red apple. Ida Cecilie Jensen was the first contestant to present.

“Promising” to have three women in the final

The 3MT final could be followed live on YouTube. After a ten-minute delay, the host of the event appeared. Doctor Gunda Huskobla from the Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena (Germany) gave an introduction to the competition and stressed several times that, in the eyes of the Coimbra Group, all three finalists were already winners. Coimbra Group is an international association of 41 universities in Europe, and it has arranged and held 3MT since 2017.

Both Ida Cecilie Jensen and her two competitors, Juhi Parmar and Michaela Raab, were selected as finalists based on a vote by 31 of the Coimbra Group’s partner universities. Every university could give three votes with a weighting of 1, 2 or 3 points respectively to the participants they wanted to see in the international final in Cologne. And even though the three finalists conduct research in wildly different areas and speak different native languages, they have one thing in common: their gender.

“It’s purely coincidental that all three finalists are women. But I think it’s promising that we have so many young researchers who might want to stay in academia and pursue their career. I take this as a good sign”, says Gunda Huskobla.

Happy with her performance

Before the contestants could start their presentation, they had to complete a short technical check. Ida Cecilie Jensen used this opportunity to confidently declare her love for research:

“Science rocks!”, she said into the microphone. “It works”.  

And then she began her presentation. When Omnibus spoke to Ida Cecilie Jensen a month before the final, she explained that the only thing she hoped to do better was to use more of her time.

In the Aarhus competition in March, there were still 19 seconds left once she’d rounded off her talk and thanked the audience. This time she managed to slow down the pace, and by talking for eleven seconds longer, Ida Cecilie Jensen was able to leave the stage happy knowing that she only had eight seconds left on the clock.

“I was really happy with my time! It helped a lot that there was also a clock in front of the stage and that I could follow the time. Being able to look at this clock out of the corner of my eye made it much easier for me to time my presentation,” she explains.

The best year ever

After an hour of deliberation, jury member Mikael Lindfelt, who is the rector of Åbo Akademi University in Finland, was called to the stage. And there was no shortage of praise when he revealed the results.

“The level has been extremely high in this year’s competition. All the members of the jury agree that this has been the best year ever”, he began.

According to the jury, all the finalists showed that they command their subject, but, as Mikael Lindfelt pointed out, the competition is more about communication than understanding per se. And the ability to communicate clearly and to command the stage was decisive for this year’s atypical outcome. For this first time in the competition’s seven-year history, the jury decided to award joint places to two of the finalists.

“This has never happened before, and it will probably never happen again”, he said.

The first contestant called to the podium was Juhi Parmar, who smiled as she was handed a certificate. At this point, her place in the competition was not clear for the other finalists or the audience. But Mikael Lindfelt soon revealed that she would share her place with another finalist.

Michaela Raab was then called to the stage to receive her certificate. From her position next to Ida Cecilie Jensen on the stage, she smiled at the soon-to-be-announced winner.

“If they are reading their certificates, they will see which place they are sharing. Because the winner of the competition in Ida Cecilie Jensen”, it was announced from the podium.

To the sound of applause and cheering from the audience, Ida Cecilie Jensen collected her certificate and proof that she is now an award-winning research communicator. It was her presence on the stage that secured her victory, explained Mikael Lindfelt.

“From the very moment you started, you had the audience's attention. And the next time I see an ant, I’ll think of you. You’ve certainly enlightened me”, he said.

“I am incredibly happy!”

It will probably come as no surprise that Ida Cecilie Jensen is delighted to have won. Just before the winner was announced, she was excited but not nervous.

“At that point I had already performed, so I was just keen to hear what the judges had decided. And it was amazing to hear that they thought we – three women – had been the best finalists ever,” she explains.

The happy winner agrees with Mikael Lindfelt that all three finalists were talented. And with such fierce competition, she had not expected to win.

“No, you never expect to win. The other two were incredible, so I didn’t count on winning”, she says.

The winner of the competition receives EUR 3,000 in prize money, while the second and third place contestants receive EUR 2,000 and EUR 1,000 respectively. But Ida Cecilie Jensen is not yet sure what she’s going to spend the money on.

“If the money is intended for private use, I’ll spend it when I go to Italy this summer! But I don’t think it is. I think it’s intended to be used for research, in which case I’ll take it to Thailand when I go and research there,” explains Ida Cecilie Jensen.

Last year it was also a PhD student from Aarhus University who came away from the international competition with first prize. With his presentation about a specially designed spaghetti-shaped camera that can be used to take pictures of people’s hearts, it was Omeed Neghabat who took the top spot.