About 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 13, 2022. The winner from this event will compete in the UC-wide competition in early May.

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: All campus semi-finalists receive at least $300, with the first-place, second-place, and People’s Choice winners taking home $3,000, $1000, and $750 respectively. The campus first-place winner advances to the UC-wide event and the possibility of even more cash prizes.

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, up to 10 semi-finalists will be chosen to compete in the campuswide virtual competition.

The campuswide competition will take place on:
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
3:00 to 5:00 p.m. via Zoom

Learn more about last year’s event!

UC-Wide Grad Slam Championship

In early May, Berkeley’s champion will compete against graduate student peers at the UC-wide championship competition. Competitors will be judged by notable leaders in industry, government, and media.

The top three presentations will receive cash prizes with first place recognized as the winner of the prestigious UCOP Grad Slam “Slammy” award.

How Does the Competition Work?

Summary of the Process

  • Student videos submitted by the deadline of January 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m., (PST) are rated by a panel of judges.
  • Up to 10 semi-finalists are selected for the second-round competition.
  • On Wednesday, April 13, 2022, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m., semi-finalists’ talks are presented before judges and audience members at a virtual event hosted by Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division Lisa García Bedolla.
  • 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 in early May. The second-place finalist will be asked to be prepared to compete if the first-place finalist withdraws.

How to Submit a Video

To apply, you must submit a three-minute video of your presentation by 11:59 p.m. (PST) on Monday, January 31, 2022. 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: “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 ask a colleague for help creating your video, or you can attend one of the free recording sessions hosted by Graduate Professional Development in the week of January 24, 2022. Contact gradpro@berkeley.edu for more information.

Rules

Eligibility

  • All graduate students enrolled in a Master’s or doctoral program at UC Berkeley who are engaged in substantive original research projects are eligible to participate. Entries from all disciplines are welcome and encouraged.
  • In cases of presentation of a collaborative research project, the presenter’s contribution to the project must be salient and clearly specified.

Visual

  • 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.
  • 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.

Timing

  • Timing will commence from the moment the speaker begins their presentation. The presentation begins at the moment the speaker engages with the audience (if they start 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

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?

Prizes

A panel of judges will select up to ten semi-finalists from video submissions received by the January 31 deadline. Those semi-finalists will be invited to compete before a second panel of judges and campus audience. All semi-finalists will receive at least $300, with the first-, second-, and People’s Choice finalists receiving cash prizes of $3000, $1,000, and $750 respectively.

The first-place finalist will enter the May 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 systemwide winners. For the systemwide competition, first, second and third place winners will receive cash prizes of increasing value.

The Berkeley winner stands a chance of winning cash prizes at both events, if they place in the systemwide competition!

Preparing for Grad Slam Step-by-Step

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 workshops to help you develop and prepare your speech and your video submissions.

Step 1
November 2021: Study the Grad Slam Rules and Watch Some Sample Talks

Step 2
December 2021: Create 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; 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 and write out your talk and prepare your slides.

Step 3
January 2022: Memorize, Practice, and Record Your Presentation

  • As former 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 club), or recruit a friend to be your sounding board.
  • Attend a Recording Session Offered by GradPro in the week of January 24 – 28, 2022 or create your own recording.

Step 4
January 31, 2022, 11:59 p.m. (PST): Deadline for video submissions using this
APPLICATION FORM.

Resources

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

Adelaide Bernard headshot

2021 Berkeley winner, Adélaïde Bernard

Adelaide Bernard also took home 3rd place at the system wide competition! Adelaide studies how cells in our brain sense our energy status and modulate hunger and weight gain. As a non-native English speaker, being part of this competition and getting to share her research to a broad audience was a very exciting challenge.

Nancy Freitas

2019 Berkeley winner, Nancy Freitas

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.

Joe Charbonnet

2018 Berkeley winner, Joe Charbonnet

Joe Charbonnet, also took home the 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

Berkeley’s 2017 winner, Kelly Swanson

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 Sakimoto

Berkeley's 2016 winner, Kelsey Sakimoto

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.