See UC System-wide Grad Slam streamed live here

UC Berkeley’s 2018 Grad Slam

Wednesday, April 4, 2018
3 – 5:30 pm
309 Sproul Hall (Graduate Professional Development Center)
FREE and open to the public


The top winner will represent Berkeley and compete in the ten-campus UC-wide Grad Slam

The UC-wide event will be hosted by President Janet Napolitano at LinkedIn headquarters in San Francisco on May 3, 2018. Live streamed here!

Grad Slam is a UC-sponsored competitive speaking event designed to showcase graduate student research in three-minute talks pitched to a general audience. This is a unique opportunity for graduate students who are engaged in substantive original research projects to develop skills communicating their academic research — while making their work visible to academic, media, and private and public sector leaders from across the state.

UC Berkeley Semi-finalists

Lilith AcadiaLilith Acadia, Rhetoric
“The Power of Pretext”

A fifth-year Ph.D. student from California, Lilith aims to work in higher education, kindling critical thinking through teaching and writing.



Kelsae Adame, Nuclear Engineering
“An Overdue Change for Medical Radioisotope Production”

A first-year Master’s student from Los Lunas, New Mexico, Kelsae plans to work for a clean energy startup, as a means of contributing to the move away from fossil fuels and addressing the threat of climate change.


Joe CharbonnetJoe Charbonnet, Environmental Engineering
“A Stormwater Solution”

A fifth-year Ph.D. student from Gainesville, Florida, Joe plans to work in private or public industry to develop a broad range of novel treatment processes and to diversify water portfolios.


Daniel DrewDaniel Drew, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
“A Swarm in Every Pocket: Autonomous Microrobots as the Future of Tools”

A fifth-year Ph.D. student from Virginia, Daniel hopes to mentor the next generation of scientists and engineers as a faculty member at a research institution.



Tomas LeonTomás León, Environmental Health Sciences
“The Ecology of Liver Fluke Disease Transmission”

A fourth-year Ph.D. student from Atlanta, Georgia, Tomás plans to work toward the prevention and control of infectious diseases around the world, through partnerships among academia, government, NGOs, and industry.


Sylvia LewinSylvia Lewin, Physics
“Using Vibrations to Understand High-Temperature Superconductors”

A sixth-year Ph.D. student from Delaware, Sylvia plans to continue her research on unusual materials that test the bounds of theoretical knowledge, while also conducting outreach that engages younger students in science.


Andrea PickelAndrea Pickel, Mechanical Engineering
“Getting the Green Light on Nanothermometry”

A fourth-year Ph.D. student from Mill Valley, CA, Andrea plans to continue developing new thermal metrology tools that will address pressing concerns in the areas of electronic and magnetic device performance, energy conversion technologies, and understanding of biological processes.


Alberto Sanchez SanchezAlberto Sanchez-Sanchez, Architecture
“(almost) no one lives here: a genealogy of extreme depopulation in rural Spain”

A first-year Ph.D. student from Spain, Alberto aims to better understand and alleviate extreme rural depopulation in his home country by bridging the gaps among research, architecture practice, and public policy.


Maria SimanovskaiaMaria Simanovskaia, Nuclear Engineering
“Searching for New Particles to Improve our Understanding of the Universe”

A fourth-year Ph.D. student who moved from St. Petersburg to the Bay Area in elementary school, Maria hopes to one day discover the nature of dark matter.



Dave WheelerDavid Wheeler, Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology
“Greek Visibility in Ancient Egypt”

A fourth-year Ph.D. student from Minnesota, David aims to become a professor specializing in cultural contact between Egypt and the Aegean from the Bronze Age to the Ptolemaic period.


What is Grad Slam?

Grad Slam is a UC-sponsored competitive speaking event designed to showcase graduate student research in three-minute talks pitched to a general audience. Entrants compete in preliminary rounds on their UC campus, with prizes awarded at each stage of the selection process.

This is a unique opportunity for graduate students who are engaged in substantive original research projects to develop skills communicating their academic research — while making their work visible to academic, media, private, and public sector leaders from across the state.

At Berkeley, up to ten semi-finalists will receive prizes of at least $100. Chosen at the campus-wide live competition on April 4, 2018, three finalists will then be awarded prizes of $3,000, $1,000, and $750, respectively, with the top finalist advancing to the system-wide event.

On Thursday, May 3, 2018, Berkeley’s champion will compete against graduate student peers at the UC systemwide championship competition. This event will again be held at LinkedIn’s downtown San Francisco center and emceed by UC President Janet Napolitano. Competitors will be judged by notable leaders in industry, government, and media. The top three prizes at the system-wide competition are $6,000 for the winner, $3,000 (second place), and $1,000 (third place).

How does the competition work?

      1. Student videos submitted by the deadline of February 19, 2018 at 11:59 pm (Pacific Time) are rated by a panel of judges.
      2. Up to ten semi-finalists are selected for the second-round live competition.
      3. On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, 3 – 5:30 pm, semi-finalists deliver live presentations before judges and audience members on the UC Berkeley campus.
      4. On the basis of these presentations, three finalists will be selected, two by the panel of judges and one “people’s choice” by audience members.
      5. The first-place finalist will represent Berkeley at the UC-wide championship round on May 3, 2018. The second-place finalist will be asked to be prepared to compete if the first-place finalist withdraws.

To apply, you must submit a three-minute video of your presentation by 11:59 pm (Pacific Time) on Monday, February 19, 2018. To obtain the video upload link, please complete the Grad Slam APPLICATION FORM.

      • Video should be submitted as an MP4 file if possible. An MOV file is also acceptable.
      • All video files should be named: “Title_of_talk.mp4” or “”. Please do not include your name or any other identifying information in the name of the video file.
      • At the very beginning of your video, please state your full name, graduate program, and the title of your presentation. The time it takes to do this will not be counted against the three minutes to present your research.
      • You will not be judged on your skills as a videographer, and you do not need to use professional video equipment. As long as the judges can see your image, and the audio is clear and understandable, that is sufficient. You may ask a colleague for help creating your video, or you can attend one of the free recording sessions hosted by Graduate Professional Development the week of February 12, 2018. Contact for more information.
      1.  Eligibility: All graduate students enrolled in a Master’s or doctoral program at UC Berkeley who are engaged in substantive original research projects. Entries from all disciplines are welcome.
      2.  In cases of presentation of a collaborative research project, the presenter’s contribution to the project must be salient and clearly specified.
      3.  Visuals: PowerPoint slides are allowed but optional (no Prezi or other presentation formats).
        • Maximum of three slides, exclusive of title slide to be generated by UCOP.
        • All work on the slides must be original to the student and cannot be generated by a professional.
        • Embedding of audio and/or video clips is allowed (clips may contain animation).
        • No PowerPoint animations are allowed.
        • Props may be allowed with advance approval by the program coordinators, provided they need minimal set-up and produce no mess. Contact for approval.
      4. Timing will commence from the moment the speaker begins her/his presentation. The presentation begins at the moment the speaker engages with the audience (if s/he starts with a hand clap, a gesture, an audio or video clip or any other such engagement, prior to speaking, the clock begins at that time; if there is no such engagement the clock starts when the student begins speaking).  If the speaker continues past three minutes, points will be deducted from the final score, beginning with one point at 3:03, and one point every two additional seconds thereafter.

Judging in the first round will be conducted by a UC Berkeley committee of faculty members and graduate students. In the second round, judges will be drawn from University alumni, staff, and other campus affiliates from varied academic fields and backgrounds. Audience members will select the “people’s choice” finalist.

Contestants will be rated on:

      • Clarity: Did the speaker provide adequate background knowledge to make the talk and the importance of the project understandable?
      • Organization: Did the presentation follow a clear and logical sequence?
      • Delivery: Pace, enthusiasm, confidence, body language, eye contact, vocal range, etc.
      • Visuals: If used, did the slides and/or props enhance the presentation and help to emphasize the primary points of the talk? Were the slides well-designed, clear, legible, and concise?
      • Appropriateness: Was the topic and its significance communicated in language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience? Did the speaker avoid or explain discipline-specific jargon?
      • Intellectual significance of research discussed: Did the speaker explain why her/his project matters (for example, its significance to the academic discipline or to specific problems in the world)?
      • Engagement: To what extent did the talk engage the audience’s intellectual curiosity? Did it inspire the audience to want to learn more about the topic?

A panel of judges will select up to ten semi-finalists from video submissions received by the February 19 deadline. Those semi-finalists will be invited to compete live before a second panel of judges and campus audience. All semi-finalists will receive at least $100, with the first-, second-, and third-place finalists receiving, respectively, $3000, $1,000, and $750.

The first-place finalist will enter the May 3, 2018, UC system-wide contest (the second-place finalist will be asked to be prepared to compete in case of withdrawal by the first-place finalist). From among the ten UC campus representatives, a panel of distinguished judges will select three system-wide winners. The top winner will be awarded $6,000, and the first and second runner-ups will receive $3,000 and $1,000, respectively.

If the Berkeley contestant wins or places in the UC-wide competition, the total award would be from $4,000 to $9,000.

A variety of resources are available to help you prepare for the Grad Slam competition! In addition to the online resources below, check out the Graduate Professional Development website for upcoming campus workshops and events on building communication skills.

Disciplinary Resources on Communicating to Wider Audiences

Tips for Very Short Presentations

Presentation and Public Speaking Tips

Need inspiration? Watch these talks!

Learn from Previous Berkeley Finalists

 Kelly SwansonLast year’s winner, Kelly Swanson, presented her research on creating a smaller, more affordable alternative to the Large Hadron Collider, which allows scientists to discover new particles and observe their movement, but is 17 miles round. “These machines have been instrumental in answering questions about our universe, but they are becoming prohibitively large and expensive,” Kelly said. Her new approach, a laser plasma accelerator, is just palm-sized.

Kelsey SakimotoBerkeley’s 2016 winner, Kelsey Sakimoto, presented his research on creating a better, more efficient version of photosynthesis at the interface of chemistry and biology. Kelsey has taught bacteria “to grow and cover their bodies with tiny semi-conductor nanocrystals” which function as solar panels. This cyborg “bacterial army” can “grow and photosynthesize food, fuels, pharmaceuticals, and plastics using solar energy” more efficiently than chlorophyll and at a fraction of the cost of solar panels.

Grad Slam Alexis ShustermanBerkeley’s 2015 winner, Alexis Shusterman presented her project on monitoring carbon dioxide in high-definition using the analogy of pixels. “We live in an era of high definition,” she said. “We know having more pixels makes life better.” She described a new approach to monitoring carbon dioxide as part of BEACO2N (Berkeley Atmospheric CO2 Observation Network), a hi-def carbon dioxide monitoring instrument.


Read about last year’s competition at Berkeley:

Watch the full 2017 Berkeley Grad Slam:


Learn from the System-Wide Finalists

Check out the previous system-wide UC Grad Slam events and winners: