Grad SLAM Participants Demonstrate the Power of the Three-Minute Pitch


Three minutes might not seem like enough time for someone to explain years of complex research, but 10 UC San Diego graduate students—including two from Scripps Institution of Oceanography—proved otherwise at the university’s third annual Grad SLAM finals on April 14.

Hosted by the UC San Diego Graduate Division, the Grad SLAM competitive speaking showcase challenges graduate students from a variety of academic disciplines to break down complex research for a general audience through engaging, three-minute presentations modeled after “TED talks.” (Photos here.)

A small panel of academically diverse faculty and staff judged the Grad SLAM competitors, and offered cash prizes of up to $2,500 to winners.

“The whole intent of this competition is really to showcase the wonderful work that’s being done by our graduate students,” said Kim Barrett, dean of the Graduate Division at UC San Diego, “and to help them develop their skills in presenting their work in ways that are intelligible to a general audience.”

Held at the Student Services Complex Multipurpose Room, the lively event featured topics that ranged from wearable biofuel cells to stimulation of blind eyes to restore vision.

The Center for Student Involvement and Qualcomm Institute helped Grad SLAM finalists prepare for the competition with workshops and one-on-one coaching at the One Button Studio, a campus resource for rehearsing presentations and for developing high-quality video projects. From translating technical work into an impactful story, to practicing timing, gestures, and pacing, the sessions provided students with tips and strategies to effectively share their research.

Scripps graduate student Lynn Waterhouse discussed her stock assessment research on the endangered Nassau grouper (a project with REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment) during her presentation, “Quantitative Fisheries Science, or How to Count Fish.” This was Waterhouse’s second time participating in Grad SLAM, and she said the skills gained through the related workshops would likely help her in the future when she begins teaching.

“Participating in Grad SLAM is just really fun and it’s not something I get to do often—communicating my science for a more general audience—especially because I do a lot of quantitative modeling and we’re often a very statistical, equation-heavy community,” said Waterhouse, a fourth-year PhD candidate in biological oceanography. “The chance to give a three-minute elevator pitch that anyone can understand is really important, especially because I want to teach statistics to wildlife biologists and marine scientists.”

Fellow Scripps biological oceanography student Catherine Nickels presented her research on zooplankton ecology during her talk, “How are Krill like Food Truck Tacos?” Nickels, a fifth-year PhD candidate, discussed her examination of krill and whale movement in the Nine Mile Bank, a popular fishing region off the San Diego coast. Now that Nickels has suggested that whales are indeed following krill—a main food source—into this populous region, she and other researchers can work on adaptive conservation strategies to protect whales from ship strikes and other threats.

“What I was really trying to get across is that when we’re on land we think about things being very place-based; you get an address and you go there and it’s there all the time. But in the ocean, because the water changes, everything moves around, so we have to think about it a more dynamic way,” said Nickels, who was also a finalist at Grad SLAM 2015. “What I ultimately want to do is science communications, so this is really good practice for me, to distill my thesis into something communicable.”

After the judges tallied the scores, the winners were announced: Tiffany Taylor of Biomedical Sciences won first place and $2,500 with her presentation “Using ‘Central Intelligence’ to Fight and Conquer Brain Tumors,” Mary Glen Fredrick of Theatre and Dance received second place and $1,000 with her presentation “Making a Monster: Turning Statistics into a Story,” and Lorenzo Rossini of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering earned third place and $750 with his presentation “A Peek inside the Heart: How the Blood Flows.”

Waterhouse and Nickels received honorable mention for their presentations, and both early career scientists were excited to have been given the opportunity to participate in such a valuable, career-expanding event.

“We’re all in places where we get really focused on what we do day-to-day, and I think it’s really useful at various points in your PhD to pull out and look back at the big picture of what we’re actually working towards,” said Nickels. “Grad SLAM is a good way for me to do that.”

– Brittany Hook


Related Image Gallery: Grad SLAM 2016

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