April 11, 2018

Grad students battle for best pitch

UC Riverside's best and brightest will go head to head during annual Grad Slam finals event, held at the Culver Center

Author: Tess Eyrich
April 11, 2018

The standard elevator pitch lasts 118 seconds: eight to hook your audience, or so the thinking goes, and another 110 to reel them in.

Graduate students at the University of California, Riverside will get an extra 62 seconds to make an impact — and an added dose of competition-induced pressure to contend with — during this year’s Grad Slam finals.

Held at UCR’s Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts at 3834 Main St., the free, public event will take place Monday, April 23, from 5-8 p.m.

Each spring, the systemwide Grad Slam initiative sees some of the University of California’s more than 56,000 master’s and doctoral students go head to head to deliver the ultimate three-minute, TED-style talk.

Contestants’ presentations must accurately distill their graduate research into brief, nontechnical explanations, with the goal of making complicated scientific and scholarly concepts more accessible to the general public.

“Communicating the value of our creative and scholarly work is an important part of our mission as a public university,” said Hillary Jenks, director of UCR’s GradSuccess program and coordinator of the Graduate Writing Center. “Grad Slam is a unique opportunity for our graduate students to showcase their cutting-edge research to a general audience and offers the community a fun way to learn about innovation that’s happening every day, right in their own backyard.”

The winner of UCR’s final Grad Slam round will move forward to square off against winners from the nine other UC campuses at LinkedIn’s San Francisco headquarters on Thursday, May 3. UC President Janet Napolitano will emcee the competition, the winner of which will receive $6,000 and the “champion” title. The first and second runners-up will take home $3,000 and $1,000, respectively.

Throughout April, UCR’s pool of 51 competitors — representing the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (27); College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (15); Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering (8); and School of Medicine (1) — will face off during a series of five preliminary rounds and two semifinals rounds.

In three minutes or less, and with no more than a three-slide PowerPoint presentation to serve as visual backup, each competitor must give a clear and effective talk that conveys the intellectual significance of their research.

“Grad Slam is a great opportunity to learn what the next generation of scholars is likely to produce,” said Shaun Bowler, dean of UCR’s Graduate Division. “In just a few minutes, our students will tell you what’s new and novel, and why you should care.”

A six-person panel of judges — five of whom are UCR alumni — will evaluate the talks, ultimately awarding the grand prize winner with $5,000. This year’s judges include:

  • Rusty Bailey, mayor of Riverside, U.S. Army veteran, and longtime public servant
  • Walter “Buzz” Stewart, chief research officer of nonprofit health system Sutter Health
  • Tobin Sloane, chief financial officer of leading national design firm Ware Malcomb
  • Barbara E. Kerr, award-winning educator and former president of the California Teachers Association
  • Benoit Malphettes, internationally renowned photographer for Vogue and Vogue Paris, Harper’s Bazaar, W, and Glamour magazines
  • David Rapaport, neuroscientist, professor, and advisor in the Post Baccalaureate Premedical Program at UC San Diego Extension

Additional prizes up for grabs at the UCR finals event include $2,000 for the first runner-up, $1,000 for the second runner-up, $1,000 for the winner of an audience choice award, and $100 each for as many as seven honorable mentions.

The talk delivered by last year’s UCR finalist, neuroscience graduate student Nathan Horrell, was titled “The neuroscience of parental care: Why do parents love their children?”

In 2016, UCR’s Peter Byrley, then a graduate student in chemical and environmental engineering, won the UC-wide contest with his presentation “Renewable nanopower: The new age of earth abundant electronics.”

The finals event is free and open to the community, although advance registration is requested and can be completed here.

Prior to the finals event, two semifinals rounds will take place Friday, April 13, from 1-2 p.m. in HUB 367 and Monday, April 16, from 3-4 p.m. in HUB 265.

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