York PhD student reflects on his Three Minute Thesis experience

Joshua Mugg delivers his pitch at the 3MT competition
Joshua Mugg delivers his pitch at the 3MT competition

Joshua Mugg, a PhD candidate in philosophy, represented York University at the provincial Three Minute Thesis (3MT) finals at Western University on April 23. His research – exploring human rationality and the nature of belief – was the focal point of his talk criticizing dual-process theories of reasoning, arguing that there is just one reasoning system that operates in several different modes.

“I was practising my 3MT in front of my two kids (Maddie, 14 months, and Corin, 2 1/2 years),” said Mugg on his 3MT preparation. “In response to the initial question of my talk ‘How many minds do you have?’ my son said, ‘Two.’ As you know from my talk, I am pretty sure that is not the correct answer!

“The 3MT was a wonderful opportunity to represent my department and university to some of the brightest graduate students and deans in Ontario,” he said. “I don’t feel entitled to people’s time, and so I think it a compliment to be asked to share my research with members of the community.” While Mugg did not place in the top three, his research garnered praise from a variety of spectators and participants at the event.

The concept of sharing one’s research in an accessible format has been the main draw of 3MT Ontario since its inception in 2013. The competition – developed by the University of Queensland in 2008 – involves graduate students presenting their research and its wider impact in three minutes or less, using only one slide, to a panel of non-specialist judges. In short, it helps bring research to the centre stage.

“Most of what I learned from this experience I learned from preparing for the event,” reflected Mugg. “Condensing a dissertation into three minutes is not easy, but when someone asks you what you work on, you need to have a quick response. This competition helped me do that. This competition also helped me think about what the implications of my view would be for future research, and how I might communicate these implications outside academia.”

The event is not only a celebration of graduate student research, but it also allows students from across Ontario to connect with people they would otherwise probably never meet. “I especially enjoyed talking to Jenna Butler (from Western University) and Stephen McCarthy (from the University of Toronto). I thought Jenna’s project showed true insight into a better approach to cancer research, and we talked about life as parent graduate students. Stephen and I talked about the importance of philosophy of science, and of scientific practice being well informed by the rigorous analysis of how science should proceed. As someone who spends (at least some of) his time trying to help clarify debates within psychology, I am happy to hear that those carrying out experiments are listening.”

Meghan Yip of the University of Guelph placed first for her talk “Can we use the skin of our feet for better balance?” Jenna Butler of Western University placed second and Stephen McCarthy of the University of Toronto placed third. They will compete nationally in Canada’s 3MT competition hosted virtually by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) in May.

Mugg defended his PhD dissertation on May 5 and is in the process of seeking future academic work. To learn more about his research, visit his website at jmugg.com.