In February 2014, in the midst of writing up one of my analysis chapters, I got an email from the University to take part in a competition called the Three Minute Thesis (3MT), which was first introduced by the University of Queensland in 2008. The aim of the challenge is to explain a thesis in three minutes to a non-specialist audience with enthusiasm and passion. I thought I should give it a go since I always enjoy finding new ways of presenting. However, I quickly learnt the hard way that three minutes is a VERY short timeframe and initially, I found it tough to write down and practise what I wanted to say. When I made it through to the University finals, I not only found I had more confidence in my own research, but felt I had also learnt how different types of audiences respond to my work and presenting style. When I then gave an academic paper at an international conference in Finland a couple of weeks later, I felt more relaxed and also much more confident than I had ever felt beforehand.
Once I had finished the competition, I was hooked! An email about the Festival of the Mind at the University of Sheffield in September 2014 caught my eye and I secured a place for the Ignite talks happening as part of the festival. With each talk lasting five minutes and 20 slides, the Ignite motto was: ‘Enlighten us, but make it quick!’ My talk was entitled “In the U.K., we speak English” and discussed language, identity and belonging in times of global change. I found this one just as challenging as the 3MT competition as I thought I had to time my talk perfectly with the slides (which were going way too fast by the way!). I practised it many times at home but once I got to event realised that I should probably just comment on each slide as it came along as reading from my script was not going to get the audience involved enough. This method worked quite well and I even managed to get everyone to laugh at my Mr. Bean jokes.
Yet another opportunity to present my work to a wider audience came along in October 2014 in the form of The Image Speaks, a seminar for doctoral students from across the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. I wanted to be part of it as I liked what I had seen in last year’s inaugural exhibition, and I thought it would give me another way of thinking about my thesis. The latest round of The Image Speaks was launched with a series of seminars in the autumn. In these, we PhD students met up with seminar leaders Amy Ryall and David Forrest to explain our research to each other and to engage with different ways of communicating our work through photography. I found that thanks to participating in both the 3MT and the Ignite talk, it became easier for me to get the key points of my work across to the other students. When we then met up with the photographer to take some pictures representing our research, I referred to some of the keywords used in the talks back then to explain what my thesis was about. This was very helpful in creating the images for the photo exhibition together with Andy Brown. Equally, it helped think up my 50 word label currently accompanying my photos.
What I have realised throughout all of these challenges I had set myself alongside the writing-up work that I am doing in my current final year is that it’s good to think of some key words about your research and to be open for questioning from people who are in a completely different field from yourself, or not even in academia at all. In my case, I had to re-discover and often even re-define words such as ‘sociolinguistics’, ‘language policy’ or ‘citizenship policy’ – terms I use frequently in my writing, but which can be surprisingly difficult to tackle when talking to someone who isn’t a sociolinguist, researcher in migration studies or anthropologist. If I am honest with you I don’t know if I would have done this without being somewhat ‘forced’ to do it through the public talks and the photography project. These experiences have given me a lot more confidence in teaching, presenting at academic conferences, and not least have they rescued me from those awkward moments at parties when someone asks you what you do for a living.
More information about Joanna’s research can be found here: https://www.shef.ac.uk/german/staff/kremer
The latest Image Speaks exhibition was launched on the 17th February 2015 in Jessop West foyer, The University of Sheffield, where it is currently on display.