An 80,000 word thesis would take 9 hours to present. Your time limit… 3 minutes

The Doctoral School are delighted to announce that the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition will be returning to Sussex in 2018.

The competition, which ran at Sussex for the first time in 2016, challenges doctoral researchers to describe their research within just 3 minutes to a general audience.

We are now accepting expressions of interest from Sussex doctoral researchers in their second year or beyond who would like to participate.

There are lots of reasons to get involved…

  • Entering the competition gives you the chance to develop your research communication and presentation skills, and researchers who make it through the heats will attend a special training day, as well as benefitting from one-to-one guidance and a peer practice session.
  • There are prizes to be won! Prizes will be on offer for the presenters who make it through the heats, and those participating in the Sussex Final will also be in with a chance to win £500 towards their research and a place in the UK semi-final (1st Prize); £300 towards their research (2nd Prize); or £200 towards their research (People’s Choice Prize).
  • Being part of the competition is a great way to meet other doctoral researchers at Sussex, and a unique opportunity to talk about your research!

In the short video below, our winners from 2016 talk about their experiences of participating in the competition, and share their top tips for doctoral researchers interested in taking on the challenge in 2018.

Interested in participating?
If you’re interested in getting involved, please visit our 3MT webpages for the full eligibility criteria and to complete our short online form. We’ll then get in touch with you in due course.

In the meantime, you can visit the website for the competition rules and judging criteria, guidance on preparing your 3MT presentation, and for some inspiration from our 2016 competition.

Writing for the Media & Public

The conversation


Joel Dimmock, Senior Commissioning Editor at The Conversation gave a talk to doctoral and postdoctoral researchers at Sussex last month, and shared his tips for
Writing for the media and the public…

The first thing to say here is that it is not that difficult; you will be pushing at an open door. The reason that The Conversation has done so well is that people love reading the thoughts of academics; love discovering your ideas; love being given access to your knowledge and expertise.

The hardest part is getting started. The Conversation is a great place to do that.

How to write, what to write

This list of tips and tricks applies to any writing you might do for the media, but they’re tailored towards writing for The Conversation. Follow these 10 pointers and you won’t go far wrong.

  • Understand your Brief: Make sure you know what the publication wants from you and how they want you to submit. Stay within your academic discipline. If a commission is vague, challenge the editors to firm it up. Sticking to word counts and filing before deadline will make you friends.
  • Answer a question: You will most often be writing relatively short pieces which makes it crucial to set yourself tight parameters. Crystallise your argument into a clear question that you can definitively address.
  • Nut graph: A tired journalistic cliché perhaps but useful to know. This is the line in the 2nd or 3rd paragraph which explains to the reader why they should read on, why this is important, and how it might affect them. It also helps tighten your own focus while writing.
  • Keep it punchy: Short sentences are good sentences. They get ideas across simply. They help readers to follow complicated ideas. And they make sure that your writing remains accessible without being simplistic. This can be especially important in your lead paragraph…
  • Take time over your lead: This is what will often decide if people read on. It should intrigue and inform at the same time. It should introduce the central question and concepts in your article while acknowledging any news event that has inspired you to write.
  • Love your news hook: Commissions from media outlets that don’t come directly from a research paper you have promoted will likely be hooked onto a major news event or theme. Let that suffuse your writing. It will attract readers, encourage engagement and influence debate.
  • Drop the jargon: Obvious, but worth emphasising. Readers are put off by acronyms and unfamiliar language. Be careful with your assumptions about readers’ knowledge and don’t be afraid of leading people to complex ideas through simpler language. (There is a list of words you might do well to avoid in your copy at the end of this sheet)
  • Don’t end on a whimper: And don’t let caveats suffocate your article. There will be counter points or apparent contradictions that are worth noting in brief, but you should write with conviction and try to offer the reader a decisive thought to close. That said….
  • Beware hyperbole: Nothing puts off editors and readers more than the nagging feeling that you are overplaying your hand. Deploy your knowledge reasonably; be empirical in your approach. Be very clear where your opinion owes more to your ideology than to your research.
  • Love your editor: They are there to help and know how to package copy for consumption. At The Conversation, getting you published is literally the sole motivation. Be indulgent of requests for clarification, and be understanding if your points are not immediately understood.


Every news organisation has a house style which their staff reporters are required to apply to all the content they produce. This applies to everything from how currencies are abbreviated, to what world leaders should be called on second reference. In most cases, you will be writing commentary articles which tend to be less tightly marshalled and for which your editor should ensure any technical requirements are met.

More interestingly, however, all news organisations have a list of phrases and constructions which are unwelcome in copy. They might be overused, clichéd or simply needless. This list might be an unspoken understanding, dictated by an egomaniacal editor-in-chief, but at The Conversation we encourage an open approach. They may, very occasionally, have their place, but avoid the phrases and words below to help your copy stand out from the crowd:

  • Stakeholders: just say who they are
  • Actors: just people. If they’re involved, say why
  • Interestingly: show don’t tell
  • Holistic: normally just means using or doing more than one thing
  • “It’s the [x] stupid”: a campaign slogan from 1992 which has probably had its day
  • “to impact”: a clumsy verb
  • “hit the headlines”: uncomfortably close to journalese
  • Synergies: always requires more explanation
  • “Sex, lies and xxxx”: a film title from 1989 which has definitely had its day
  • “On the 8th of July 1975…”: bad start for an opening para (dates themselves not banned)
  • “In and of itself”: needless
  • Silver, or magic, bullets: few things are, or are claimed to be (apart from actual silver bullets)
  • “It remains to be seen..”: a crushing conclusion to an article
  • Brits: ditto yanks, poms etc
  • Paradigm: there’s probably a better word
  • Panacea: (see silver bullets)
  • Etc: it just looks like you got bored

Consider your parallel path

pathways image

At our career development workshop last week doctoral researchers shared their ideas and hopes for their careers alongside and beyond the doctorate. Some were wanting to pursue an academic career, some keen to explore options beyond academia, and others (no doubt like many of us) weren’t sure of their future career path.

We were encouraged to think about competition for roles in academia, which many are all too familiar with. And to consider the statistics of doctoral researchers going on to be employed in academia (approx. 40-50% in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; 30-40% across biological, biomedical, physical sciences and engineering *Vitae-What do researchers do? ).

The message was to consider your parallel path, to absolutely pursue an academic career if that’s your goal, but to also think about a parallel path beyond academia- as it’s perhaps risky not to. The researchers in the group were encouraged to start a digital career file and begin thinking about career development and a range of career paths from the early stages of your doctorate.

So what do you keep in this career file? Our careers pages for doctoral researchers were recommended as your starting point. There are several resources on this page to help you find career opportunities, optimise your CV, and keep up with the latest developments. Downloads such as the Career Development Toolkit for Researchers can be useful starting points for formulating an ongoing career strategy, or 10 Career Paths for PhDs beyond academia, or blogs such as onthefence for those who are not sure. Spend some time exploring these resources and bookmark/file them to return to later.

Recording those activities which all contribute to building your academic profile and show evidence of your skills development is also an important part of your career file. We talked about your outward facing public profile, starting with setting up your Sussex online profile. This allows people both within the University, and who you meet at conferences and external meetings, to find you online. You can use this online space to present yourself and your research, experience and achievements.

But we also considered your own personal file and keeping a note of all the activities you are involved in as a doctoral researcher, and there are many! This will really help when you come to CV building and applying for jobs, start a list in your career file, as it’s easy to forget when you are looking back over your doctorate. You will have spent much of your time pushing your thesis project forward, but much more besides…think about collecting examples of your everyday work as a doctoral researcher.

Activities might include

  • Teaching activities
  • Mentoring/supervision/tutoring students
  • Publications
  • Conference presentations
  • Grants and awards
  • Collaborations- partnerships, your professional network
  • Participation in committees
  • Organising meetings
  • Organising events, conferences, seminars
  • Participating in campus student life (student associations, student rep activities etc.)
  • Public engagement activities
  • Managing budgets, your project, your time, your resources…

These types of activities are all evidence of the skills valued by employers within and outside academia- examples of developing your interpersonal and leadership skills, project management and organisation skills, research and information management, self-management and professional practice, written and oral communication skills…and the list goes on…

Takeaways from the session- think about your parallel path, start your career file.

*Register on the Vitae site with your Sussex email address to access all resources

Helen Hampson
Researcher Development, Doctoral School

The Student Barometer

Earlier this month, all Sussex students including doctoral researchers will have received an e-mail invitation to take part in The Student Barometer survey.

The survey, which can also be accessed here asks you to share details of your Sussex experience, and the University has committed to producing an action plan on the back of the survey results.

The survey is fully backed by the Students’ Union, and will run for the whole of November.

In previous years, The Student Barometer has been sent to international students only, and has resulted in service improvements such as significant investment in the arrival and welcome programme.


Each week, 15 students who have participated in the survey will be chosen at random to pick from a selection of prizes:

  • 2 x tickets to an allocated Brighton & Hove Albion Premier League football match
  • 4 x tickets for a 3D screening at the Odeon
  • 4 x tickets for the Sealife Centre – ‘Ultimate Package’
  • 4 x tickets for the i360
  • £60 Pizza Express voucher

All students who take part will be entered into a final prize draw for a chance to win a £500 STA Travel voucher to spend on a holiday or flight.

Doctoral Open Days at the British Library

Have you just started your PhD?

The British Library are running a series of Open Days for Doctoral Students, taking place between December 2017 and February 2018.

These events are designed to explain the practicalities of using the British Library and it’s services, to help new researchers discover the unique research materials available. The Library’s collections cover a wide range of formats and languages; from newspapers to maps, datasets to manuscripts, ships’ logs to websites.

The Open Days offer the chance to hear from expert staff at the British Library, and to meet other researchers from a range of disciplines. Interested researchers are invited to sign up for the day they feel is most relevant to their studies.

2017/18 Doctoral Open Days

8 December:  Music Collections

11 December: News & Media Collections

22 January:    Asian & African Collections

29 January:    Social Sciences Collections  

31 January:    Exploring the Collections at Boston Spa

5 February:    Pre 1600 Collections

12 February: 17 & 18th Century Collections 

19 February: 19th Century Collections

26 February: 20th & 21st Century Collections

For further details of all the Open Days and how to book please see the British Library website. Places cost £10.00 including lunch and other refreshments.

All Open Days take place in the British Library Knowledge Centre in London, except for the event on 31 January 2018, which takes place at the Library’s site in Yorkshire.

Managing stress during your PhD

Yesterday was National Stress Awareness Day.

According to the mental health charity Mind, some of the triggers for feelings of stress include:

“being under lots of pressure

facing big changes

worrying about something

not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation

having responsibilities that you’re finding overwhelming

not having enough work, activities or change in your life”

Do any of these sound familiar when you think about your experiences studying for a PhD? Perhaps you’re feeling under lots of pressure to get your research outline finished, or even to submit your thesis?

Maybe you’ve just started your PhD and the change from taught study, work, or full-time family life has been bigger than you were expecting? With all the responsibilities and expectations of being an independent researcher, perhaps you’re feeling worried and overwhelmed?

Carrying out your very own, unique piece of research can be an exciting – but sometimes challenging – experience. It’s important to remember that there are lots of ways of accessing help and advice if at any point you find you’re experiencing symptoms of stress.

If you’re interested in finding out more about managing stress during your PhD, there’s lots of useful information available online.

Why not take a look at some of the resources below?

*You’ll need to register on the Vitae website using your Sussex login to access these resources

Seeking support

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or concerned that the levels of stress you’re experiencing may be having an impact on your physical or mental health, please don’t hesitate to seek support. It can be helpful to talk things through.

There are a range of places to find support at Sussex, but if you’re not sure where to go, a good place to start is the Student Life Centre. Student Life Advisors offer one to one consultations in person (or by telephone, e-mail or Skype if you’re unable to get to campus), providing advice and guidance on a wide range of issues. They can also signpost you to more specialist support and resources both within the University and externally.

You can find more information about looking after your wellbeing as a researcher on our webpage and our new website for doctoral researchers, which includes video interviews with doctoral researchers giving their top wellbeing tips.