Grad Slam

Grad Slam 2023 is Saturday March 4.

UC Santa Cruz finalists present at Kuumbwa Jazz Center. Learn more...

Grad Slam 2023
Saturday, March 4
7:00 p.m. Pacific Time, doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Kuumbwa Jazz Center
320-2 Cedar Street
Santa Cruz
Free and open to the public; seating first-come/first-served

Grad Slam gives graduate students three minutes to share their research, concisely and compellingly, with a public audience. Currently enrolled graduate students are eligible to participate, with the exception of previous winners (Grad Slam champion, runner-up, or people’s choice).

2020 Winners

Amanda QuirkChampion, Winning $3000
2nd Place at the UC Grad Slam Finals on May 6, Winning $4000!
Amanda Quirk
Astronomy and Astrophysics Ph.D., 5th year
The Tale of Two Galaxies: Studying How Galaxies Change Over Time

Hometown: Alpharetta, GA

What excites you most about your research? Galaxies exist on time and distance scales that we, as humans, can’t really comprehend. However, we can explain parts of their pasts and futures using math, and I think that’s powerful!

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? I was looking for a collaborative department conducting cutting-edge research, and I’ve definitely found that here.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! My favorite activity is snorkeling, and I am so lucky to be able to get in some great snorkeling before or after observing runs!

Jessica Kendall-BarRunner-Up, Winning $1500
Jessica Kendall-Bar
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Ph.D., 5th year
Eavesdropping on the brain at sea: A first glimpse at sleep in wild marine mammals

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

What excites you most about your research? I am fascinated by animal behavior and cognition. When I get a new dataset, I love the excitement that comes with visualizing it for the first time, of vividly imagining an animal’s trajectory in space and time.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? I was excited by the work my advisers and labmates do to discover the hidden lives of elephant seals, narwhals, and dolphins.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! Since starting as a graduate student, I have developed new art and animation skills. I now work as a freelance animator and graphic designer to help scientists communicate results.

Melissa Marini SvigeljPeople’s Choice, Winning $750
Melissa Marini Švigelj
Education, emphasis in Sociology Ph.D., 4th year
The Limitations and Potentialities of Educational Civil Rights Protections under IDEA for Incarcerated Children

Hometown: Cleveland, OH

What excites you most about your research? Contributing to collective movements striving for the eradication of injustice and inequity humbles, inspires, and motivates me.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? The legacy of activism and radical leadership affiliated with UCSC demonstrates the critical and transformative practices I cherish and embrace and the critical research skills I aspire to develop.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I’m a single mom of four sons and a large dog, hoping to graduate next year when one son also graduates from Santa Cruz High.

Other Finalists

Ontario AlexanderOntario Alexander
Musicology Ph.D., 1st year
Joseph Boulogne: Restoring a Legend

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

What excites you most about your research? Adding to the building blocks of knowledge, even if I help by adding just one block.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? Who could resist the place where sandy beaches and towering redwoods abide? Not I.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I enjoy old black and white television shows and movies. I also like to listen to old radio sitcoms.

Amanda CarbajalAmanda Carbajal
Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Track in Biomedical Science and Engineering Ph.D., 4th year
Leveraging biotechnology and basic science to stay a step ahead of the next global pandemic

Hometown: Oxnard, CA

What excites you most about your research? The novelty of the work and the vast positive impact it can harbor.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? The location, the reputation, and it isn’t a science-only institution.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I am very passionate about pursuing every aspect of my personality, free from whatever others may think, from working at NASA to my art, such as writing and dance. I am a competitive pole dancer!

Elise DuffauElise Duffau
Psychology Ph.D., 3rd year
The Particularities of Politeness

Hometown: Guerneville, CA

What excites you most about your research? I love words, and I love science fiction, so to be on the cutting edge of research exploring how we communicate with voice assistants and artificial agents is a dream come true! I’m excited to be a part of how this new technology is understood and advances.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? To conduct the fascinating research of the Spontaneous Communication Lab led by Dr. Jean E. Fox Tree.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I grow carnivorous plants and am creating a bog garden of Venus flytraps, sundews, butterworts, and pitcher plants.

Sara GonzalezSara Gonzalez
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Ph.D., 6th year
Untangling giant kelp: Causes and consequences of different shapes

Hometown: Silver Spring, MD

What excites you most about your research? Discovering something new about the natural world is such a thrill. I love studying kelp because it plays such a big role in the ocean and also has far-reaching applications in society.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? I was drawn to the excellent resources and expertise here at UCSC for studying marine ecology. Plus, living within walking distance of the beach has been a dream come true!

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I enjoy practicing Tae Kwon Do and traveling to other countries, especially ones with kelp!

Andrea Paz-LacavexAndrea Paz-Lacavex
Coastal Science and Policy M.S., 2nd year
SPORA: Rockin’ kelp restoration

Hometown: Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

What excites you most about your research? Creating scalable impact via kelp forest restoration to future-proof coastal systems.

Why did you choose to attend UC Santa Cruz for graduate study? The fleet of high-quality academic leaders in kelp ecology and coastal management, as well as the unique multidisciplinary, innovative, and international environment of the Coastal Science and Policy Program.

Tell us a bit more about yourself! I enjoy climbing and deep diving, and I once drove through five countries to deliver a bacteria-powered light I manufactured to an international technology summit.

UC Office of the President System-Wide Grad Slam Final

Every UC Grad Slam Champion will participate in the system-wide finals on Friday, May 6, 10:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. Pacific Time in San Francisco, COVID-19 pandemic conditions permitting. The event will be livestreamed.

Scenes from Grad Slam

All photos by Doriana and Jeff Hammond of West Cliff Creative Photography


Graduate Division Professional Development Coordinator Sonya Newlyn, People’s Choice Winner Melissa Marini Švigelj, Amanda Carbajal (back), Champion (1st place winner) Amanda Quirk (front), Andrea Paz-Lacavex, Elise Duffau, Sara Gonzalez, Runner-Up (2nd place winner) Jessica Kendall-Bar, Ontario Alexander, and Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Peter Biehl

ucsc_grad_slam_2022_winners.jpgLeft to right: People’s Choice Winner Melissa Marini Švigelj, Champion (1st place winner) Amanda Quirk, and Runner-Up (2nd place winner) Jessica Kendall-Bar












ucsc_grad_slam_2022_kuumbwa-sign.jpg ucsc_grad_slam_2022_kuumbwa-with-grad-slam-popup-banner-at-courtyard-entrance.jpg



Grad Slam judges Bonnie Lipscomb, Director of City of Santa Cruz Economic Development; Jacob Martinez, Founder and CEO of Digital Nest; Willy Elliott-McCrea, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank; Christina Waters, Research Associate, UCSC Arts Division, and Contributing Writer and Editor, Metro Newspapers; Sonja Brunner, Mayor, City of Santa Cruz; Everett Ó Cillín, Exhibitions and Projects Manager, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History; and Lori Kletzer, Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor and Professor of Economics, UCSC. Not pictured: Prithpal Khajuria, Global Innovation and Technology Enablement Leader, Intel, who judged remotely by watching the live stream

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