Research projects

Graduate Students Present Research Projects at UC Davis Grad Slam Semi-Finals

UC Davis grad candidates vie for a chance to represent UC Davis in the UC Grad Slam Finals

By MAYA SHYDLOWSKI — [email protected]

You’re on stage in front of a crowd of eager students who are ready to absorb whatever you have to say about your life’s work so far. There are judges, scholars, peers, people who might know more about your subject than you, and friends who are cheering you on from behind.

No, it’s not a TED Talk. It’s the UC Davis Grad Slam. And it may not be your life’s work, but it’s what you’ve devoted at least four – and in many cases six – years of study to. And that’s probably similar to what you’re going to do in your career.

On Wednesday, April 6, 10 graduate students stood at Walker Hall in front of judges and supporters to deliver three-minute speeches intended to summarize the progress and impact of their research so far in their graduate programs. respective.

According to the UC Davis Grad Slam websiteEntrants are judged on three criteria: audience engagement, the effectiveness and focus of their presentations, and their ability to communicate their concepts.

Of the 10 nominees, five awards were given out: First, Second, Third, People’s Choice and People’s Impact Award. Only the first place winner qualified for the University of California Graduate Slambut all five winners took home cash prizes.

Alice Dien, third-year doctoral student. candidate in Biological Systems Engineering, received the first prize of $2,500 and the public impact prize of $500 for her presentation on the innovation of drying in agriculture to reduce energy consumption and food losses. She will also qualify for the UC Grad Slam, where she will compete for additional rewards. Savannah Free, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in integrative genetics and genomics, received $1,500 as the second place winner for her talk on the interaction of tumor cells and blood platelets in cancer research. Paige Kouba, fourth-year doctoral student. candidate in ecology, received third place and a $750 scholarship for her work on the effects of different levels of carbon dioxide on trees to simulate future climate change. Andrea Guggenbickler, first-year Ph.D. candidate in public health sciences, received $500 as the winner of the audience award for her presentation on how more comprehensive sex education can improve public health and reduce the risk of teenage pregnancy.

Dien had one thing the other winning candidates didn’t: no experience in public speaking. Free and Guggenbickler said they participated in debates in high school and Kouba participated in theater. Dien said she was never trained to speak in public, but her confidence came from enjoying the event and her passion for her research.

“I had rehearsed my speech so many times and tried to deliver it the same way each time,” Dien said. “But actually it was a bit different when I was on stage because it really came from my heart. I was just enjoying the moment and being there.

Dien, like many graduate students, is very passionate about his research. All four winners mentioned how fun it was to present their research to a larger group of people, especially people outside of their fields of study.

I’ve always wanted to give a TED Talk,” Kouba said. “I think how exciting it would be to present your biggest and best idea or the thing you are most passionate about. In fact, I often ask my students this question, like, “What would you talk about if you had the scene for just three minutes?” So I was kind of putting my money where my mouth is.

However, Free said one of the biggest challenges for many graduate students preparing for their presentations is taking the technical jargon from their research and translating it into words that the majority of a university-level audience would understand.

“As graduate students, we get bogged down in the finer technicalities of our work,” Free said. “It’s good sometimes to get some fresh air and take a look at your work from an outside perspective.”

Not only did graduate students have to translate their research, but they also had to do so in a three-minute speech, which Kouba said proved difficult because she could speak for hours about her work.

How to tell such a big story on a global scale in such a short time frame was a real challenge at first,” said Kouba.

In addition, the presentations had to be fine-tuned. To enter the competition, each contestant submitted a video recording of their speech. The top 10 students were selected and received feedback for review. Then they were able to have a one-on-one mentoring session where their presentations were further critiqued.

Dien said she initially had a slide with several images she wanted to use to illustrate the wide range of products that require industrial drying in agriculture. The judges told her that an elaborate slide would cause the audience to focus on the screen behind her, rather than the content of her speech, so she would have to skip it.

Similarly, Guggenbickler said she practiced her endless speech to ensure the audience could focus on her content rather than any incident in the delivery.

“I wanted to come across as confident and knowledgeable because I feel like people are more likely to listen to what you say if you present it in an impactful way,” Guggenbickler said.

The first step was to attract the public. Some topics were immediately relatable to the public, like Free’s research on cancer or Guggenbickler’s research on sex education. Others had to be more creative with their approach.

Dien said not everyone knows how important industrial drying is in food systems. So she started by talking about rising energy prices. This has increased the cost of drying staple crops like grains and nuts, which could eventually lead to higher prices for these staples. With other drying options, energy consumption can be reduced, limiting the impact of energy supply and demand on food cost.

How these important scientific discoveries and innovations are communicated to the public is critical, Free said.

“I kind of came to the pageant thinking that everyone knows about cancer,” Free said. “Everyone knows someone who’s had cancer, so everyone’s going to have a basic understanding. But even if that’s true, people usually have a more clinical or general understanding. They might not have a very biological understanding.

The UC Grad Slam aims to enable graduate students to develop their communication skills and engage with a larger community. Each nominee also has the opportunity to describe how their research affects the community as a whole. Four of the 10 students who presented at the UC Davis Grad Slam were recognized as Global education for all recipients, a designation awarded to research that has global impact.

“I like to think I can touch everybody’s life with this,” Guggenbickler said of his work improving sex education. “And that’s the point, isn’t it?”

For many, the impact of their research began with their own story. Kouba remembers growing up climbing Douglas fir trees with her sister – now she studies how they will fare in the future. Free found cancer research to be a “puzzle” that affected most people’s lives, including his own. Guggenbickler said she grew up in a small town where sex education consisted of two sessions between middle school and high school; now she says she wants to be the one to de-stigmatize sexual health discussions for future generations.

Dien is passionate about reducing food insecurity, so she chose to focus her research on one of the main causes of food loss and energy consumption in agriculture. She said she plans to do her best for the UC Grad Slam Finals on May 6, where she will represent UC Davis.

“It’s exciting, but it’s also a lot of pressure,” Dien said. “I entered the contest thinking I was just going to share my research, and now I’m representing UC Davis.”

You can find a registration Davis Grad Slam Semi-Finals online and tune in May 6 to watch the UC Grad Slam Finals live stream on their website.

Written by: Maya Shydlowski — [email protected]