UC Irvine’s ‘Grad Slam’ Program Connects Grad Students With Their Future Industries

Inspirational Women 2022
(Courtesy of UCI)

One of the most common questions broached during small talk is, “what do you do?” The question is simple enough, but the answer can be tricky to navigate. The idea is to be interesting but concise, in-depth but not overwhelming.

The University of California Irvine (UCI) “Grad Slam” competition has helped graduate students increase their communication skills and their capacity to effectively present their work with poise and confidence since 2015. Each of the University of California’s 10 campuses hold local Grad Slam contests, then those respective winners advance to the system-wide competition.

Grad Slam is an annual contest to communicate research. It aims to make research accessible by providing emerging scientists and scholars with the skills to engage the public in their work. Participants are judged on how well they engage the audience, how clearly they communicate key concepts, and how effectively they focus and present their ideas - all in three minutes or less.

The competition offers the contestants an opportunity to show businesses and the public in general, the ability to see how much they have to offer. UCI has had some amazing talent emerge over the last eight years, and the 2022 UCI Grad Slam Champion was no exception. Rachel Sousa took the win last year at UCI and went on to San Francisco to compete in the UC system-wide finals, earning a third-place finish. “I had such a wonderful time at the UC Systemwide Grad Slam and I felt honored to represent UCI,” Sousa said. “The competitors from the other UCs nice to talk to get to know them as well as talk to the judges. I had slightly modified my talk (since the UCI Finals), but I was prepared and excited to compete. I nailed my speech - it went just as I had practiced and I wouldn’t have changed anything, so it was nice to feel confident when I walked off the stage.” There is prize money involved at the school and system-wide competitions, which is certainly important to those participating. But if you asked the students, the experience itself is more valuable than the money.

“Grad Slam was truly one of the greatest science-related competitions that I’ve ever taken part in,” said UCI 2022 Grad Slam finalist Shirin Kianidovom. “There were lots of growth opportunities involved in every step of the journey. I had several one-on-one practice sessions with professional presentation coach Bri McWhorter, which helped me develop my communication skills significantly.”

UCI graduate students are innovative, intelligent and changing the world right before our very eyes with their incredible research. However, it can be hard to discuss their important research to those outside of the field. “Grad Slam has helped me gain confidence in my ability to share my research with anybody, whether they are involved in science or not,” Sousa said. “By participating in Grad Slam, I really learned how to share my research in an easily digestible format. This is an important skill to have in general, but also quite an important skill for me to have as an interdisciplinary scientist.”

The networking opportunities that Grad Slam provides is another benefit for the competitors. Meeting the judges representing various industries, the other competitors themselves, to the Dean of Graduate Division can provide real results in the future.

“Lance Holman (a judge at the UCI competition) and I talked a bit before and after the event,” Sousa said. “He took me to dinner with a friend of his who works in precision medicine at City of Hope. It was nice to get to know Lance and understand how and why he wants to support our community. I also enjoyed getting to know his friend and being able to ask him questions about the precision medicine industry and research.”

In early October, a select group of UCI graduate students, including some 2022 Grad Slam participants, attended a professional networking luncheon with prominent members of the Orange County business community. It was an opportunity for the students to pick their brains and build relationships with professionally successful community members.

Possessing the ability to effectively communicate research is not only important in everyday discussions and networking but also when interviewing for jobs. “I think Grad Slam has been a shining star on my resume,” Kianidovom said. “I noticed in almost all of my job interviews after graduating, I got at least one question about Grad Slam and my research. How did it go? Well, I confidently gave the hiring managers a professional 3-minute speech and impressed them!”

The benefits don’t stop there. UCI Grad Slam not only offers its graduate students professional development opportunities, ensuring an easy transition from their research to a career in industry; Grad Slam is an incredible way to connect students with Southern California business and industry partners. Sponsoring UCI Grad Slam provides an excellent opportunity to access the incredible graduate student talent, our future thought leaders to career placement, internships, mentoring, research and more.

At its core, Grad Slam is a way to help students explain their research efficiently and confidently. But the benefits for those competing go so much deeper than that.

If you are interested in sponsorship opportunities for the 2023 UCI Grad Slam Competition and connecting your business to UCI graduate student talent, please contact Jennifer Olsen Ellinger at href=’’>