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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.

This is a unique opportunity for graduate students who are engaged in substantive original research projects to develop oratorical skills, dynamic deliveries, and compelling content when presenting their academic research — while attracting the notice of academic, media, and private and public sector leaders from across the state.

Entrants compete in preliminary rounds on their UC campus, with prizes awarded at each stage of the selection process. At Berkeley, up to ten semi-finalists will receive prizes of at least $100. Chosen after the campus-wide live competition on April 5, 2017, three finalists will then be awarded prizes of $750, $1,000, and $3,000, respectively, with the top finalist advancing to the system-wide event to be held on May 4, 2017. The top three prizes at the system-wide competition are $1,000 (third place), $3,000 (second place), and $6,000 for the winner of the prestigious UCOP Grad Slam “Slammy.”

When is the Grad Slam championship event?

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, the winner of the Berkeley competition will compete against graduate student peers at the UC system-wide championship competition. This event will again be hosted by LinkedIn at its downtown San Francisco center and emceed by UC President Janet Napolitano. Competitors will be judged by notable leaders in industry, government, and media.

What is the application and competition process?

To apply, you must submit a three-minute video of your presentation by 11:59 pm (Pacific Time) on Wednesday, February 15, 2017. 

To obtain the video upload link, please complete the Grad Slam APPLICATION FORM.

  • In late February, all videos submitted by the deadline will be rated by a panel of judges.
  • Up to ten semi-finalists will be selected for the second-round live competition.
  • On Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 3 – 5 pm, these semi-finalists will deliver live presentations before judges and audience members on the UC Berkeley campus.
  • 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.
  • The first-place finalist will represent Berkeley at the UC-wide championship round on May 4, 2017. The second-place finalist will be asked to be prepared to compete if the first-place finalist withdraws.

Video instructions

  • Video should be submitted as an MP4 file if possible. An MOV file is also acceptable.
  • All video files should be named: “lastname_firstname_deptname.mp4” or “lastname_firstname_deptname.mov”
  • 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 get help creating your video, if you like.)
  1.  Eligibility: All graduate students enrolled in a Master’s or doctoral program at UC Berkeley who are engaged in substantive original research projects.
  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.
  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 15 deadline. Those semi-finalists will be invited to compete live before a second panel of judges and campus audience. All competitors will receive at least $100, with the third-, second-, and first-place finalists receiving, respectively, $750, $1,000, and $3,000.

The first-place finalist will enter the May 4, 2017, 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:

Need Inspiration?

Learn from the 2015 and 2016 Berkeley Finalists

Kelsey SakimotoLast year’s finalist, 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:
http://grad.berkeley.edu/news/headlines/berkeley-grad-slam/

Learn from the System-Wide Finalists

Check out the previous system-wide UC Grad Slam events and winners:
https://gradslam.universityofcalifornia.edu/