At UC’s third annual Grad Slam, grad students tackle big ideas in 180 seconds

The University of California’s third annual Grad Slam — a systemwide contest that challenges graduate students to explain their research in three jargon-free minutes — will take place at LinkedIn’s downtown San Francisco office this Thursday, May 4, at 10:30 a.m.

After a series of semifinal contests held on UC’s 10 campuses between February and May, first place winners from each campus will square off to capture the systemwide Grad Slam title and their share of $11,000 in prize money. Participants will be judged on how well they engage the audience, how clearly they communicate key concepts and how effectively they focus and present their idea — all in 180 seconds or less.

UC President Janet Napolitano will emcee the contest, to be judged by a panel of leaders in industry, media, government and higher education.

The competition will be livestreamed on UC’s Grad Slam website ( For the first time this year, viewers at home will have the ability to tune in and vote online for their favorite speaker. The audience favorite will be named after a 30-minute voting period and will receive a $1,000 award, along with the first, second and third place winners chosen by a panel of judges.

Finalists will present on such diverse topics as using enzymes to convert greenhouse gases into fuel; turning shrimp shells into surfboards; exploring the world with tabletop particle accelerators; using geometry to build better birth control; understanding the gut microbiome; and more.

UC’s Grad Slam program provides real-world job preparation by encouraging students to better communicate the potential impact of their research, a critical skill for emerging scientists and scholars as they seek to engage the public — and potential employers — in their work. All GradSlam participants receive one-on-one coaching sessions and participate in theater workshops to further hone their skills in communication and public speaking.

Similar competitions, based on the Three Minute Thesis competition developed by the University of Queensland, are held on university campuses all over the world.

For more information about GradSlam, including a list of finalists competing on May 4, visit