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How to Write a PhD Elevator Pitch

How many times have you been asked, “What do you research?” only to draw a complete blank or ramble on for minutes? Situations like these are why you need an elevator pitch. The idea of an elevator pitch is simple. It’s a short, succinct statement that neatly sums up what you do and why it matters. The name comes from the idea that you should be able to say your entire pitch during the length of an elevator ride (around 30 to 60 seconds).

An elevator pitch is especially useful when talking with non-academics, but it’s also handy for job interviews, funding applications, conferences, and networking events. Only a small percentage of the population are researchers and just a fraction of those are researchers in your field. Before you head to your next big professional event, it’s worth sitting down and dedicating some time to writing your elevator pitch.

Your elevator pitch should have three main sections:

1. The Hook

The elevator pitch is all about the opener. You want to capture someone’s attention immediately so they keep listening for the next minute. At the same time, you need to present the major topic you study and provide some quick background info. Spend some time coming up with your hook.

2. What is Your Solution?

Now that you’ve introduced the problem, explain how your work solves it. This is the essence of what you research. Briefly summarize your major findings. If you’re just starting your project you might not have any findings yet but you can still mention what you expect the results to be.

3. Why Does it Matter?

This is the most important section of the elevator pitch, especially for a non-academic audience. This is the part that puts your work in a larger context and connects it to a real-world application. Try to answer questions such as, “Why is it necessary that you do this research?” Or, “Why should we care?” These answers are easier to come up with in some fields than others. If possible, tie your research to a societal concern (like global warming, public health, or politics) or self-interest (like gaining confidence, being healthier, or making money).

Once you have the basic ideas and structure down, it’s time to refine your pitch. As you work on it, keep these to keep in mind:

Use Plain Language

This is probably the hardest part of developing your elevator pitch. While you are immersed in this topic every day, the person you’re talking too likely isn’t. Even if they’re a fellow scientist or academic they may not have the same specialty as you. Everyone appreciates when someone explains difficult concepts in a way that’s easy to understand.

Keep It Simple and Short

As researcher, you are focused on the details. But in an elevator pitch, the details aren’t important. Someone doesn’t need to know every detail to get the jist of what you work on. Going into detail will make your pitch too long and you risk losing your audience’s interest. Remember, the point of an elevator pitch isn’t to summarize your entire dissertation, it’s to say enough to catch someone’s interest and potentially start a conversation. If they want to know the details, they will ask.

Practice Makes Perfect

It might seem silly to practice what is essentially small talk, but it’s important to get your elevator pitch down pat. All the time you have spent crafting the perfect statement will be wasted if you don’t remember it the next time someone asks, “So what do you do?” Practice your elevator pitch so many times that it becomes second nature. If you don’t practice, you’ll end up just blurting out something random or rambling on until someone cuts you off.

If you get really good at your elevator pitch you might even be able to make some money off it! Over 200 universities around the world participate in the Three Minute Thesis competition which was founded by the University of Queensland.

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