UC-wide 2019 Grad Slam Livestream:

Nancy Freitas is 2019 Berkeley Grad Slam winner for her 3-minute presentation “Microbes in the Arctic.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2019
3:00 – 5:30 pm

Sibley Auditorium
FREE and open to the public. Register now!

Berkeley GradSlam video:

Come watch the ten Grad Slam semi-finalists as they present their three-minute research talks! The winner will represent Berkeley and compete in the UC-wide Grad Slam.

The UC-wide event will be hosted by President Janet Napolitano at LinkedIn headquarters in San Francisco on May 10, 2019.

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:

The following semi-finalists have been selected to participate in the April 3, 2019 campus Grad Slam competition. This year’s group represents once again a wide range of disciplines, including those in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and engineering. Read more about them below!


Yifan Li, Chemistry
The Fast Track through Photosynthesis

A fifth-year Ph.D. student from Rockville, Maryland, Yifan is planning to pursue career paths that will allow him to conduct innovative research on the interface between new technologies (especially energy generation, storage, and efficiency) and basic science.

Michael Nance, Ethnomusicology
Musical Tourism: Perceptions of Transnationalism Through Music

A first-year Ph.D. student from Highland Park, Illinois, Michael’s career goal is to become a professor. His work in ethnomusicology is highly interdisciplinary, with connections to the world of conflict resolution.


Sara Knutson


Sara Knutson, Scandinavian/Anthropology
The Archaeology of Cross-Cultural Interactions

Sara is a third-year student from Grand Rapids, Michigan with a background in museums and archeological fieldwork. After completing her Ph.D., she aims to pursue teaching and research, working with people around the world who have not previously had a voice in academic discourse.

Pierre-Valery Njenji Tchetgen


Pierre-Valery Njenji Tchetgen, Education
Drumball: Investigating Multimodal Meaning Production through Digital Drum Talk

Pierre-Valery is an eighth-year Ph.D. candidate from Cameroon and Ghana, who aims to make play-based learning available to teachers everywhere. He plans to pursue postdoctoral work, with the goal of helping ordinary teachers become extraordinary through the use of digital technology.

Jessica Heiges


Jessica Heiges, Development Practice

A second-year master’s student from Sonoma County, California, Jessica wants to make reusable foodware as convenient as disposable foodware. By participating in Grad Slam, she hopes to teach people across campus about their role in creating a sustainable food system.

Chandan Singh


Chandan Singh, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences
Interpreting Models for Safe and Accountable Machine Learning

Chandan is a second-year Ph.D. student from Virginia who wants to help make modern algorithms safer for general use, particularly in the context of science and medicine. He plans to pursue careers in academia or industry in machine learning research.

Nancy Freitas


Nancy Freitas, Energy and Resources Group
Microbes in the Arctic

A first year master’s student from Tucson, Arizona, Nancy hopes to mobilize people to take action on climate change. She plans to pursue a career in policy development, outreach, and education, focusing on climate change communication.

Laura Fouquette


Laura Fouquette, Public Health
Homelessness and Health Equity in the Bay Area

Laura is a master’s student from San Diego, California who is starting a career in healthcare, and will soon be relocating to Berlin, Germany for an internship in digital health innovation and technology. She is interested in pursuing a Ph.D.

richard barnes


Richard Barnes, Energy and Resources Group/Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences
Fixing’ Gerrymandering

A fourth-year Ph.D. student from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Richard is committed to making communication an integral part of the scientific process. He is currently exploring academic positions and postdocs in computational science.


QinQin Yu, Physics
Predicting Unpredictability in Evolution

QinQin is a third-year Ph.D. student from Columbia, Missouri who uses quantitative approaches to understand complex biological systems. She plans to pursue a career that combines scientific research with contributions to data-driven science policy decisions.

What is Grad Slam?

Grad Slam is a UC-sponsored competition designed to showcase graduate student research for a general audience in three-minute talks. Think mini-Ted Talks. Entrants compete in preliminary rounds on their UC campus, with prizes awarded at each stage of the selection process. The UC Berkeley campuswide competition will take place on April 3, 2019. The winner from this event will compete in the UC-wide competition on May 10, 2019.

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 $3000, $1,000, and $750, respectively, with the top finalist advancing to the UC-wide event.

How does the competition work?

      1. Student videos submitted by the deadline of February 18 at 11:59pm, 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 3, 2019, 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 10, 2019. 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 18, 2019. 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 the week of February 11, 2018. Contact gradpro@berkeley.edu 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 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 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 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 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 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 from the ten campus finalists. 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.

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.

Week of 1/21: Study the Grad Slam rules and watch sample talks
  • Workshop: “Grad Slam Info Session and Brainstorming”
  • 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.
Week of 1/28: Figure out what’s exciting about your research
  • Workshop: “How to Tell a Compelling Story About Your Research”
  • Within any research project, there are many compelling stories to tell. A successful Grad Slam talk tells a single, clear, engaging narrative from start to finish. This could mean telling the story of why your research is exciting to you or important to your field; it could mean connecting your research to ideas or experiences familiar to the general public; it could mean explaining why your research is urgent and impactful. Read the disciplinary resources below to see a variety of different, successful strategies.
Week of 2/4: Learn your talk and practice presentation skills
  • Workshop: “Public Speaking for Graduate Students”
  • As last year’s Grad Slam champion, Joe Charbonnet, put it, public speaking is “a psychomotor skill, not an innate talent.” Take some time to learn tips and techniques that can make you a better speaker. Then, practice and get lots of feedback! View the presentation resources below, attend a session of Toast of Berkeley (a Toastmasters public speaking club), or recruit a friend to be your sounding board.
Week of 2/11: 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!
  • 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! See our memorization resources below.
February 18, 2019, 11:59pm (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, 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 2018 Berkeley Grad Slam:

Learn from the System-Wide Finalists

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

Watch the full 2018 UC Systemwide Grad Slam: