Eight Grad Students to Compete for $5,000 Fellowship at Inaugural GradSlam

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Finalists from a field of 48 will vie to see who can concisely discuss their research

By Ross French on May 6, 2014

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speaking in front of a room

Jennifer Kavetsky, graduate student in English, presents her research on robots in literature in the fourth preliminary round of GradSlam at UC Riverside on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Photo by Ross French

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Eight graduate students from the University of California, Riverside will go head-to-head to see who does the best job of summarizing their research to a panel of judges and an audience of laypeople in the final round of the inaugural GradSlam on Monday, May 12, 2014, with a $5,000 fellowship going to the winner.

Sponsored by the UCR Graduate Student Resource Center, the finals of the inaugural event will take place between 4 to 5:30 p.m. in HUB 302 North. The event is free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be served. For more information, visit: http://gsrc.ucr.edu/gradslam/.

“GradSlam is a contest that challenges our graduate students to demonstrate their amazing research to the community,” said Maggie Gover, director for Graduate Student Academic and Professional Development. “It is an opportunity for them to practice explaining their research to non-academics.”

A total of 48 contestants from across the academic disciplines participated in one of four preliminary rounds. Contestants were judged on several categories, including clarity and delivery, the intellectual significance and appeal of the presentation, and whether they were able to provide context and connect with a non-specialist audience. (An example of a presentation from the preliminary rounds can be seen at the end of this article.)

“In a nutshell we are looking for students who can make their research seem understandable, interesting, and important to a panel of community members who may or may not be academics,” Gover said.

Michael Prather, a graduate student in political science studying the evolving boundaries between international humanitarian and military missions, said that GradSlam was “exciting and a bit unnerving,” and that condensing his work into a three-minute presentation was “very difficult.”

“GrandSlam turned out to be a tremendous challenge,” he said. “I sought to focus on the elements of my research that appealed to the largest audience, but it was a struggle to select specific elements from a topic that I find so important.”

Krista Lukas, who is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts, used the GradSlam to create a pitch for her memoir.

“The preliminary round was an opportunity to refine the pitch for a live audience. I really had to think about the difference between prose and a speech–what a live audience would need in order to be interested and anchored in the story,” she said. “A friend who attended one of the preliminary rounds said that the experience confirmed for her that her attention span for this kind of information is about three minutes–and that makes sense. We can’t assume others want to listen to us for three hours. However, three minutes is not too much to ask.”

Prather said that he benefited from hearing about the research work of his fellow competitors.

“As a political scientist it was fascinating to hear about the work of sociologists, biomedical scientists, and music theorists among many other scholars,” he said. “Participating in GrandSlam helped me understand the high level of research across disciplines at UCR. I left motivated to better my own work and become more aware of what other graduate students are producing.”

Susan Allen-Ortega, assistant vice chancellor for Health and Wellness, served as a judge for one of the preliminary rounds and said that she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“The presentations were excellent, inspiring and extraordinarily interesting. They left me feeling very proud of the great research underway at UCR,” Allen-Ortega said, adding that she is encouraging undergraduates with an interest in graduate school to attend the finals.

In addition to the $5,000 first place prize, the first-runner-up will receive $2,000, the second-runner-up and audience’s choice $1,000 each. Four honorable mentions will receive $100 each.

Judges for the finals include:

  • Frank Ramirez, assistant director of Counseling & Career Development in UCR Career Center.
  • Jay Goth, founder of Redtail Capital, senior business consultant at Tritech SBDC, and communications director at Capital Market Relations.
  • Dallas Holmes, Riverside Superior Court judge (retired).
  • Connie Ransom, member of Citizens University Committee Board, president of Board of Directors for Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for the Arts and Crafts, and broker associate for Coldwell Banker Armstrong Properties).

UCR is the third University of California campus to host a GradSlam, following UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine.

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