SMU’s PhD student won the inaugural Singapore Three Minute Thesis competition

23 Aug 2017

PhD in Psychology candidate Brandon Koh Yuan Rui has bested 19 other PhD students from four universities in Singapore to win the 2017 Singapore Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition on 4 August.

The competition challenges participants from Singapore Management University, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore University of Technology & Design to explain their research thesis in a clear and engaging three-minute talk aimed at non-specialists.

The other participants from SMU were Andrew Le Du Dung, Maksim Tkachenko and Kustini Lim who are all pursuing their PhD in Information Systems, as well as Amy Lim who is a PhD student in Psychology. All five had earlier won the SMU round of the 3MT competition on 14 July.

[Caption: Brandon Koh’s delivering his talk ‘A Time for Creativity’ at the 2017 Singapore Three Minute Thesis competition.] (Photo: NTU)

In his talk entitled ‘A Time for Creativity’, Brandon shared about his research on how thinking can enhance creativity. In particular, he sought to explain the cognitive processes underlying these benefits. Past research have shown that one reason truly creative ideas are rare is because people rely on their preconceived mental models of the world to create new ideas. For example, if people are asked to creatively imagine an original alien design with feathers for a movie character, most people would think of having wings for the aliens in their design, much like a typical bird. Therefore, their preconceived mental models constrain the originality of new ideas.

While it is generally difficult to alter people’s preconceived mental models, Brandon discovered that when people think about the future, they anticipate very high levels of change and progress in the future. They see the future as radically different. As such, imagining the future momentarily alters their model of the world. In three experiments, he had participants write short essays about general human life in the present day or the future, before they try to design creative new products. He also included a control group. In general, Brandon found that participants who wrote about the future were more creative at designing a variety of products such as toys, dining tables and movie characters. Not only were they more creative, they were also more likely to explore completely new ideas from scratch rather than attempt to modify existing ones. He concluded that our hopes for a future filled with change and progress not only inspires creativity, but prepare us to adopt an innovation posture that embraces change.

Professor Robert Deng, Dean of Postgraduate Research Programmes said, “My heartiest congratulations to Brandon Koh for doing SMU proud by winning the Singapore round of the 3MT competition.  

“SMU organised and took part in the 3MT competition last year and this year as we felt it was a good platform for inter-disciplinary learning among the PhD students at SMU. Through this competition, our PhD students are challenged to communicate their research work in a manner that can reach a wider audience for possible research collaborations and to create a greater research impact.  The 3MT competition enhances our students’ presentation skills and at the same time ensures that their research is based on sound research methodologies.”

Besides taking home the top prize of Euro 2,000, Brandon’s reward for winning the Singapore round of the 3MT competition is to represent Singapore at the Asia Pacific 3MT Finals to be held at the University of Queensland in Australia on 29 September. SMU will sponsor him fully for his 4-day, 3-night trip to Australia for the finals.

Brandon said, “I really had not expected to win the competition. I did, however, learn much from the competition. It was absolutely essential to make every word count. I shortened my original script down to 20% to have it fit into 3 minutes. I also had to consider each statement carefully, evaluating whether a layperson could understand me within split seconds of hearing each statement. Because the talk was so condensed, even losing the audience in one sentence could leave them with a relatively incomplete picture. Thus, it was a real challenge to simplify the research literature, technical jargons and my experimental methodology to not only become simple, but rapidly understandable. I’m glad it paid off.

“I hope competing in the 3MT Finals in Australia will help acquaint me with public speaking in a high pressure situation. This is the first time I will have to speak in front of such a large audience and the top speakers from other universities. I think just being comfortable delivering the 3-minute speech would have been a significant learning milestone for me.”

The Asia-Pacific 3MT, which has been sponsored by Springer Nature since 2008, draws students from Australia, New Zealand, and other countries from Asia such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan.

[Featured photo: SMU PhD student Brandon Koh (left) received his top prize of Euro 2000 from Ms Tan Siok San (centre), Director of Student Affairs Office from NTU. On the right is Dr. Antoine Bocquet, Vice President Sales Japan, India, Southeast Asia and Oceania & Managing Director, Nature Japan K.K / Springer Japan K.K.] (Photo: NTU)

Last updated on 25 Aug 2017.

Share this page