Ignacio Escalante
Ignacio Escalante is a PhD Candidate in the Elias Laboratory in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at UC Berkeley.

Can you explain your work, in a nutshell? Can you say why what you do is valuable? For students engaged in research projects in academic settings, it may not be easy to explain their studies or its importance to the layperson. This may be one reason why a surprisingly large segment of the public is uncertain that college degrees are worthwhile or whether expertise is beneficial — they don’t understand how the inquiries of academics are relevant to their lives or the common good.

UC Berkeley’s 30,000+ undergraduate and 11,000+ graduate students generate or contribute to diverse research in the natural and physical sciences, social sciences and humanities, and many professional fields. Such research and its applications are fundamental to saving lives, restoring healthy environments, making art and preserving culture, and raising standards of living. Yet the average person-in-the-street may not see the connection between students’ investigations and these larger outcomes.

Lynn Huang received her PhD in English from UC Berkeley in 2016, and is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Diablo Valley College.
Lynn Huang received her PhD in English from UC Berkeley in 2016, and is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Diablo Valley College.

This is where communication skills come in — specifically, the ability of students, at every stage of their career, to talk about their research in direct, compelling ways to general audiences not familiar with their field of study. Helping doctoral and master’s students explain their research is the focus of new efforts led by the Graduate Professional Development program and its partners, including the Townsend Center for the Humanities.

Workshops such as “Going Public: Explaining What We Do and Why It Matters” and “Claiming Expertise: How to Explain Your Research in Three Minutes” offer students the skills, training, and confidence needed to translate their often complex, technical close-up views into a wider picture with broader relevance. The annual UC-wide Grad Slam competition showcases the most clear, concise, and engaging presentations by graduate students in various disciplines across the ten campuses.

Alberto Sanchez SanchezWinner of Berkeley’s recent Humanities & Social Sciences Grad Slam, Alberto Sanchez Sanchez (left) reflected on his presentation on economic displacement and depopulation. “I had to think about my research from a very objective perspective: Is this important? Why? For whom? How could I explain its significance to someone who is not familiar with the topic at all?”

Since the inception of Berkeley’s Grad Slam in 2015, all of the student speakers have gained renewed passion for increasing public awareness and comprehension of research at institutions like UC at a time when government funding and public support is becoming less certain. Whether the audience is in Sacramento, Washington DC, or your uncle’s hometown, taxpayers and decision-makers and elected officials need to understand more about how the research of university students benefits our regions, nation, and the world.

Look for the Berkeley Grad Slam on April 4, 2018 in 309 Sproul Hall. The winner will compete at the systemwide Grad Slam on May 3, 2018 at the LinkedIn Headquarters in San Francisco.