Grad Slam 2023

What is Grad Slam?

Grad Slam is a communication contest hosted by the UC Santa Cruz Graduate Division that is open to all graduate students, except those who have won 1st, 2nd, or the people’s choice in a previous Grad Slam. Participants have a maximum of three minutes to explain their graduate research or artistic endeavor to a general audience.

Prizes are $3000 to the winner, $1500 to the runner-up, $750 to the people’s choice (the last decided by text message voting, one vote per audience member, both those in person and watching the live-stream).

Every UC holds a Grad Slam, and the ten UC Grad Slam champions compete in the UC Office of the President Grad Slam in early May in San Francisco. The 2023 UCOP Grad Slam takes place May 5.

2023 Winners

christa-seidl-150x150.jpgChampion, Winning $3000
Christa Seidl
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Ph.D., 5th year
Silence in Paradise: Fighting Extinction and Infectious Disease in Hawaiian Birds

Hometown: Milwaukee, WI

What excites you most about your research? Making a tangible impact on managing an infectious disease threatening animals, ecosystems, and cultures.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? I knew UCSC would provide the opportunity to conduct high-quality and impactful research in ecology and evolutionary biology with a respected professor and in a beautiful place.

Tell us a bit more about yourself. I was once trapped in a tree by a troupe of lemurs in Madagascar.

meloddy-gao-150x150.jpgRunner-Up, Winning $1500
Meloddy Gao
Social Documentation, M.F.A., 1st year
Swimming Lessons: Observing Grief Across Oceans

Hometown: Indianapolis, IN

What excites you most about your research? Working with Asian American communities at the crossroads of social advocacy and art. While my film is personal, the themes of intergenerational communication, identity, and grief are experiences many people connect with.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? To learn documentary filmmaking as an act of social justice.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I was a big fan of The Magic School Bus. I channel Ms. Frizzle with bright colors in my wardrobe, embroidery, and mural paintings.

cesar-rojas-bravo-150x150.jpgPeople’s Choice, Winning $750
César Rojas-Bravo
Astronomy and Astrophysics, Ph.D., 6th year
Measuring Exploding Stars to Understand Dark Energy, the Universe’s Biggest Mystery

Hometown: Alajuela, Costa Rica

What excites you most about your research? Continuing the legacy of thousands of astonomers in history.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? To be part of the world-acclaimed Astronomy Department, not just for its superb research, bu also for its faculty’s strong advocacy for diversity and underrepresented groups in astronomy. Professor Enrico Ramírez-Ruiz strongly influenced my decision. He showed me Latin Americans can be world scientific leaders.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! My mom, sister, and I got matching crescent moon tattoos after our wonderful trip to Turkey last summer!

Other Finalists

dana-lis-bittner-150x150.jpgDana-Lis Bittner
Cognitive Psychology, Ph.D., 3rd year
Internet-Use-Induced Forgetting: Looking for More Information Online Can Make You Forget What You Already Know

Hometown: Vienna, Austria

What excites you most about your research? Researching a quickly evolving field. Tech advances present many questions about how memory and metacognition function with them.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? UCSC’s social justice focus and the Psychology Department’s strong and rigorous program of research made me confident that this was a place where I could thrive.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I speak German, English, and French, am learning Spanish and Japanese, and can read Latin.

xian-chang-150x150.jpgXian Hui Chang
Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics, Ph.D., 6th year
Reducing Bias in Genomics with Pangenomes

Hometown: Bethesda, MD

What excites you most about your research? Working on a project using my background in biology and computer science to solve interesting and fun problems that have an impact on ameliorating genomic biases.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? UCSC has always been at the forefront of genomics, and I wanted to be a part of the amazing research that goes on here.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I’m no longer allergic to nuts, so I’m trying all types. The rankings are: 1: pistachios, 2: cashews, 3: almonds.

mitra-elena-ghaffari-150x150.jpgMitra Elena Ghaffari
Social Documentation, M.F.A., 2nd year
Ciclovía Documenatary & Bike Collective

Hometown: Boulder, CO

What excites you most about your research? All the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with along the way!

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? To create media rooted in social advocacy, grow as an educator, and learn in community.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I recently learned that cows moo with regional accents!

samir-ghosh-150x150.jpgSamir Ghosh
Computational Media, Ph.D., 1st year
Wildfires in Virtual Reality

Hometown: Los Altos, CA

What excites you most about your research? Working in virtual reality development, because it’s very polymathic.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? Our computational media program is unique because it’s an engineering discipline that has us critically study the humanities and practice the arts. Many mentors and peers pointed me to UCSC.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I’m an open water swimmer! I’ve been swimming from Alcatraz to shore yearly since I was 11.

simeiyun-liu-150x150.jpgSimeiyun Liu
Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, Ph.D., 5th year
Epigentics: How Your Diet Today Can Affect Your Children Tomorrow

Hometown: Xinjiang, China

What excites you most about your research? Making new discoveries and contributing to my field drives me, especially the possibility of developing a new method or theory with significant impact on the field.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? UCSC’s natural beauty and supportive community. I believed UCSC would provide me with what I need to succeed in my field.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I have lucid dreams almost every night and remember what happens in my dreams. I am living another life in my dreams while sleeping!

vanessa-oviedo-150x150.jpgVanessa Yadira Oviedo
Psychology, Ph.D., 4th year
The Liking Gap in Online Communication

Hometown: Long Beach, CA

What excites you most about your research? Uncovering new knowledge and learning how human behavior changes in a digital setting.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? I loved the research being done in my adviser’s lab, plus the location is beautiful!

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I enjoy going to live concerts, indoor rock climbing, and spending time with my cat, Luci. I also frequently travel to Guanajuato, Mexico, where my family is from.

Divisional Preliminary Rounds

The Graduate Division held in cooperation with the academic divisions (Arts, Baskin Engineering, Humanities, Physical and Biological Sciences, and Social Sciences) four on-campus preliminary rounds to determine the top two presenters from each round who were finalists of Grad Slam on March 4 at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. A tie in the Physical and Biological Sciences prelim for second place resulted in three instead of two finalists! The top presenters in each preliminary round won $500 each. The first ten graduate students to register to participate in their preliminary round and who actually participated received a $50 e-gift certificate to a UCSC-participating vendor.

System-wide Grad Slam Rules from UC Office of the President

All graduate students currently enrolled in UC master’s or doctoral graduate programs. In cases of collaborative research, the presenter’s contribution to the project must be salient and clearly specified.

Judging will focus on the presentation and the ability to communicate research to a non-specialist audience. Use of additional electronic media (e.g., sound and video files) must be approved in advance (email Sonya Newlyn with questions and for approval). Submissions may not contain any copyrighted material, such as licensed graphics.

A maximum of one PowerPoint slide (16:9 ratio), exclusive of title slide to be generated by UCSC Graduate Division, is allowed but is optional; no Prezi or other presentation formats. Students must create their PowerPoint slide themselves; they cannot ask someone else to design the slide. Use of PowerPoint templates is allowed. The slide can include visual elements (charts, visualizations, photos, clip art, etc.) created by someone other than the student, as long as the slide credits the original creator.

PowerPoint animation effects are allowed
Embedded audio and/or video clips (including but not limited to .gif, .avi, .mp4, .mp3, and .wmv file types) are not permitted unless they are deemed indispensable to the communication of the research topic. To request the inclusion of an audio or video clip, participants must send both the presentation with the embedded media and a short statement of justification to Sonya Newlyn for approval. Requests must be sent at least one week prior to the divisional preliminary round the requester will be participating in.

Props are allowed, but need to be cleared by Sonya Newlyn, require minimal set-up, and not produce a mess.

Timing commences when the student engages with the audience. (If engagement starts with a hand clap, a gesture, an audio or video clip or any other such engagement, prior to speaking, the clock begins at that time; if there is no such engagement the clock starts when the student begins speaking.) Timing will end after the last word is spoken.

Points will be deducted from the final score, beginning with one point at 3:03, and one point being taken off for every two seconds the speaker continues after that.


Judges rate presenters with a score of 1 to 5 (1=Poor, 2=Fair, 3=Good, 4=Very Good, 5=Excellent, with half-points allowed above 1 and below 5) in the following four categories:

The presenter translated their research and its disciplinary significance into language that all of us can understand.

The presenter delivered a talk that followed a clear and logical sequence.

The presenter delivered the talk with an effective performance style in terms of body language, eye contact, expression, volume, and pace.

The presenter conveyed enthusiasm for their research or artistic endeavor and captured and maintained the audience’s attention.