Rhodes University postgrads awarded for impressive three-minute theses

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3MT thesis students
3MT thesis students

By Nwabisa Moyo


Reading a thesis is a time-consuming process, especially given the challenges of understanding the use of scientific terms within these academic works. But what if the author could present the gist of it in three minutes for the layman? That is exactly what Rhodes University postgrad students did at the recent annual 3MT (three-minute thesis) competition.

The 3MT competition, hosted at Rhodes University by the Centre for Postgraduate Studies (CPGS) has interesting origins. The idea was birthed at a time when the state of Queensland, Australia was suffering severe drought. To conserve water, residents were encouraged to time their showers, and many people had three-minute egg timers fixed to the wall in their bathroom. The then Dean of the University of Queensland Graduate School, Professor Alan Lawson, used this as inspiration for the idea of the 3MT competition, which soon reached global fame.

Participating in the 3MT competition provides students with the ability to develop academic, presentation and research communication skills while at the same time developing their ability to effectively explain their research in language-appropriate means to a non-specialist audience. It also contributes greatly to the building of a research culture in universities where candidates can come together (live or virtually) to get to know one another and talk about their research.

It provides a supportive environment where schools, institutes and universities can provide presentation skills training. Lastly, it builds external relationships for the university, as students are competing and networking with other academics across the borders, gathering more knowledge. The competition is beneficial to participants because it helps students gain confidence in presenting their works, teaches them to translate their research so that non-experts can understand it. It demonstrates the impact that the students’ work can make in the field of study and beyond, and it contributes to the building of their CVs.

The 3MT winners may go on to represent their university at the national 3MT competition, which provides an excellent networking and professional development opportunity. This year, Nnenna Robert and Alexia Dievart flew the Rhodes University flag high at the South African national three-minute thesis competition. 

The prize-giving ceremony began with a warm welcome from CPGS lecturer Asiphe Mxalisa, who told participants, “This is a massive journey because this room is full of winners.” 

Professor Sioux McKenna, the Director of the CPGS spoke of the importance of 3MT for our communities, “Researchers in the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences are generally good at building their fields and communicating their contributions in the specialist language of journal articles and academic books. Of course, it is important that they do this because this science is built incrementally through the dissemination of these contributions. But we are living in an era of fake news and conspiracy theories, and we need to be able to explain our work to the public.”

This competition holds great importance as a pivotal element of the development of science communication skills. “Science communication is an essential responsibility of researchers. By communicating our science in ways that make sense to people outside of our fields, we are ensuring that society understands our contribution to the common good,” said Prof McKenna.

The awards committee presented Pick n Pay vouchers for honourable mentions, which included students whose research has brought honour to their field and the Institution at large.

These were presented to:

  • Sonia Namukuta, a Masters student, for her thesis on the “Musings of death”
  • Natasha Balmer, a PhD student, for her thesis titled “Trampled to dust”
  • Lutili Franck, a Masters student for the thesis titled “Drain-fill technology and solid removal in aquaponics”
  • Cyndie Russeeawon, a PhD student was awarded for “Correcting for ionospheric effects in radio astronomy data”
  • Takudzwa Makuwa, a Masters student for a thesis titled “Money grows smarter than humans!” Louisa Maitisa, a Masters student for her thesis titled “Why are matrimonial properties failing women and children?”
  • Vusi Mthombeni, a Masters student for his thesis titled “Evaluating the stakeholder’s perceptions on co-management of small-scale fisheries in the Wild Coast”

The Popular Vote category awarded students with the most likes and comments on their theses videos, which were posted on YouTube. These were:

  • Paulina Quartey, an honours student for her thesis titled “Regulatory or exclusionary, investigating the constitutional right to work of migrants in SA”
  • Andrew Ali, a Masters student, with the thesis titled “Plastic mansions in the river system”
  • Malithi De Silva, a PhD student, with a thesis titled “Unveiling Nature’s Secrets: Deep learning early defence against crop diseases”

The last category was the Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, and Dean's Choice award. The winners of this esteemed category were:

  • Damola Ajani, a Master’s student, for the thesis titled “Say goodbye to bitter medicine”
  • Khangelani Dlamini, a Masters student, for the thesis titled “The opportunities and limitations of recycling”
  • Kelly Solomon, a PhD student, with a thesis titled “The person behind the screen”
  • Alexa Dievart for her thesis was titled “Mussels and parasites: An ecosystem in danger”
  • Nnenna Robert, a PhD student with thesis titled “Drug-resistant Tuberculosis: A continuing challenge for medicine”


The annual 3MT competition at Rhodes University has not only highlighted the remarkable ability of postgraduate students to distill their complex research into concise, three-minute presentations but also underscores the importance of science communication in today's world.