The idea for 3MT® came about at a time when the state of Queensland was suffering severe drought. To conserve water, residents were encouraged to time their showers, and many people had a three-minute egg timer fixed to the wall in their bathroom. The then Dean of the Graduate School, Emeritus Professor Alan Lawson, put two and two together and the idea for the 3MT® competition was born.
The first 3MT® competition was held at UQ in 2008 with 160 Higher Degree by Research candidates competing. In 2009 and 2010 the 3MT competition was promoted to other Australian and New Zealand universities and enthusiasm for the concept grew. Due to its adoption in numerous universities, a multi-national event was developed, and the Inaugural Trans-Tasman 3MT® competition was held at UQ in 2010.
Since 2011 the popularity of the competition has increased and 3MT® competitions are now held in over 900 universities across more than 85 countries worldwide.
In November 2013, the first Universitas 21 (U21) 3MT® competition was held with several universities from around the world competing in a virtual competition.
2016 bought about an expansion of the Trans-Tasman 3MT® competition to include universities from South-East and North Asia regions. The competition is now called the Asia-Pacific 3MT® competition and is hosted annually by UQ.
In 2020 3MT® moved to a temporary virtual format due to COVID-19 and has continued to be held around the world in either a virtual or live format (depending on local COVID-19 restrictions).