Five Unusual Approaches to Thesis Presentation | Top Universities

Five Unusual Approaches to Thesis Presentation

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated April 4, 2018 Updated April 4, 2018

Sick of your non-scientist friends complaining that your research is far too complicated for them to ever understand? Try one of these unusual thesis presentation techniques, guaranteed to make your research more accessible to a general audience – and also likely to involve a fair amount of fun! 

(If you like these ideas, you'll probably also be excited about these unconventional academic awards - it's not all about the Nobels you know!)

1. Tell it to a five-year-old

At the University of Texas at Austin, science doctoral students are challenged to (voluntarily) present their research to school children, from kindergarten up to 12th grade. Students then rate the thesis presentation on ‘understandability’, ‘enthusiasm’ and what it made them think about. Survive 20 minutes at the front of class, and you’ll probably find that big academic conference doesn’t seem so scary any more!

2. Turn it into a dance

The annual Dance Your PhD contest invites PhD students to conduct their thesis presentation to the world... using the medium of interpretative dance. There are four categories – physics, chemistry, biology and social sciences – and entries are scored by a panel of judges (including some pretty big-name academics) on three criteria: scientific merit, artistic merit, and creative combination of science and art.

3. Paint it

Dance not really your thing? Then how about picking up a paintbrush, focusing on the very essence of your research, and – well – seeing what comes out? That’s what a group of scientists did at the 2009 European Researchers Night in Vienna. The results are pretty cool – though of course the real challenge is still explaining to people what your painting ‘means’! (Try this: “Well, artistic meaning is really dependent on the observer isn’t it? What does it mean to YOU?”)

4. Photograph it

In fact, lots of universities run ‘research as art’ competitions, though usually based on photography, rather than painting. For example, at the UK’s University College London (UCL), graduate students and staff from all faculties can enter the annual ‘research as art’ competition, with selected entries displayed as part of a gallery. Images can be of anything – urban areas, natural phenomena, human cells... (Though again, you do need to be able to at least vaguely explain how this pretty image relates to your Very Important Research Project.)

5. Turn it into a game

More of a gamer than an artist? No problem: just turn your thesis presentation into a computer game! The Wellcome Trust’s Gamify Your PhD competition brought together teams of scientists and game developers to do just this. As a result, the world now has a game which puts the player inside an intestine, controlling cells to fight off harmful bacteria. Surely this can only be a good thing.

This article was originally published in February 2013 . It was last updated in April 2018

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The former editor of, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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