Enter the 2020 Berkeley Grad Slam Competition!

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. The UC Berkeley campuswide competition will take place on April 1, 2020. The winner from this event will compete in the UC-wide competition on May 8, 2020.

Why Should I Enter Grad Slam?

  • Professional Development: Grad Slam is a unique opportunity for graduate students to practice pitching original research to general audiences. Participants have the opportunity to attend workshops and receive group and one-on-one coaching to develop oratorical skills, dynamic deliveries, and compelling content when presenting their academic research.
  • Networking: Through Grad Slam, participants will meet and engage with a diverse body of UC Berkeley staff, faculty, graduate students, and valued associates (donors, alumni, media, politicians, community members, and more).
  • Impact: Participants have the opportunity to make the importance and relevance of their research visible to a non-specialist audience.
  • Prizes: The three finalists will receive prizes of $2,000, $1,000, and $700, respectively, with the top finalist advancing to the UC-wide event. All semifinalists receive at least $250.

Berkeley Campuswide Grad Slam

To enter Grad Slam, students must submit a video of their three-minute talk to GradPro (details below). From those submissions, 10 semi-finalists will be chosen to compete in the campuswide live competition. Colleagues and friends of the competitors are warmly invited to attend! (The event will also be livestreamed.)

Learn more about last year’s event!

The campus-wide competition will take place on:

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
3:00 to 5:30 p.m.
Sibley Auditorium

UC-Wide Grad Slam Championship

On Friday, May 8, 2020, Berkeley’s champion will compete against graduate student peers at the UC-wide 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 $1,000 (People’s Choice), $2,000 (third place), $4,000 (second place), and $7,000 for the winner of the prestigious UCOP Grad Slam “Slammy” award.

How does the competition work?

      1. Student videos submitted by the deadline of February 17 at 11:59 p.m., PST are rated by a panel of judges for the Berkeley campus competition.
      2. Up to 10 semi-finalists are selected for the second-round live competition.
      3. On Wednesday, April 1, 2020, 3 – 5:30 p.m., 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 8, 2020. 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 p.m. (Pacific Time) on Monday, February 17, 2020. 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 “Title_of_talk.mov”. 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 starting February 3, 2020. Contact gradpro@berkeley.edu for more information.
      • To register for a Recording Session visit this calendar page and sign up for an appointment slot!
      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 and encouraged.
      2. Individual Contribution: 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 GradPro.
        • Students must create their PowerPoint slides themselves – they cannot ask someone else to design the slides. Use of PowerPoint templates is allowed. Slides can include visual elements (charts, visualizations, photos, clip art, etc.) created by someone other than the student, as long as the slide credits the original creator.
        • Embedded audio and/or video clips (including but not limited to .gif, .avi, .mp4, .mp3, and .wmv file types) are not permitted unless they are deemed indispensable to the communication of the research topic. To request the inclusion of audio or video clip, participants must send both the presentation with the embedded media and a short statement of justification to the UC Grad Slam Planning Committee. Requests must be sent to Gradstudies@ucop.edu at least two weeks prior to the systemwide competition.
        • No PowerPoint animation effects are allowed (use of PowerPoint animation tab not allowed).
        • Props may be allowed with advanced approval by the program coordinators, provided they need minimal set-up and produce no mess. Contact gradpro@berkeley.edu 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?

For the Berkeley campus competition, a panel of judges will select up to ten semi-finalists from video submissions received by the February 17 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 $250, with the first-, second-, and third-place finalists receiving, respectively, $2,000, $1,000, and $700.

The first-place finalist will enter the May 10, 2019, 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). A panel of distinguished judges will select three system-wide winners and one People’s Choice winner with the following awards: $1,000 (People’s Choice), $2,000 (third place), $4,000 (second place), and $7,000 for the winner of the prestigious UCOP Grad Slam “Slammy” award.

If the Berkeley contestant wins or places in the UC-wide competition, the total award would be from $3,000 to $9,000.

I’m interested, but I have no idea where to start!

Don’t worry, GradPro is here to help! There are a variety of resources available to help you prepare for the Grad Slam competition. Walk through these four steps on your own, using the online resources below, or attend GradPro’s series of info sessions and workshops to help you develop and prepare your speech and your video submission.

January 22, 4-5 p.m. and January 24, 12-1 p.m.: Study the Grad Slam rules and watch some sample talks

  • Optional Workshop: “Grad Slam Info Session and Brainstorming”
  • Suggested Steps: Read the Grad Slam website thoroughly to make sure you understand the rules. Then, watch previous Grad Slam videos, both from the UC Berkeley campus competition and the UC systemwide competition (from disciplines as varied as physics, philosophy, and architecture). Analyze the content and structure of several talks; choose some that are from your own discipline, and some from unrelated fields.’
  • Register for the info sessions here: 22 4-5 p.m. and Jan. 24, 12-1 p.m.

January 29, 12-1 p.m.: Attend a panel led by communications specialists and learn about some of the qualities that deliver awesome public speaking results.

February 3-17: Memorize and record your talk

  • Recording Sessions: Nervous about recording your talk? Attend a GradPro recording session and we’ll take care of the filming! Visit this calendar page and sign up for an appointment slot!
  • Suggested Steps: You can also film yourself using a phone camera or any other setup you’d prefer. Remember to keep it under three minutes – the best way to ensure that you stay under the time limit is to memorize your talk and practice, practice, practice!
February 17, 2020, 11:59 p.m. (PST): Deadline for video submissions.

Disciplinary Resources on Communicating to Wider Audiences

Resources for Humanists and Social Scientists:

Tips for Very Short Presentations

Presentation and Public Speaking Tips

Need inspiration? Watch these talks!

Learn from Previous Berkeley Finalists

Last year’s Berkeley winner, Nancy Freitas, a first year master’s student in the Energy and Resources Group, impressed the audience and judges alike with her talk, “Microbes in the Arctic,” which described how climate change is activating billions of microbial organisms that lay dormant in Arctic permafrost. “It is my hope that my research will motivate humans, which are much smarter, and much larger than microbes,” Nancy said.

Berkeley’s 2018 winner, Joe Charbonnet, also took home the first-place “Slammy” in the UC systemwide competition! Joe’s research described how sand coated with manganese oxide can be used to remove contaminants from stormwater. Joe is currently field-testing the use of this sand to replenish California’s underground aquifers. “This technology helps cities save their rain for a sunny day,” his talk concluded.
Kelly Swanson

Last 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 2019 Berkeley Grad Slam:

Learn from the System-Wide Finalists

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

Watch the full 2019 UC Systemwide Grad Slam: