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UCSB ‘Grad Slam’ Condenses Graduate School Research into 3-Minute Talks

Students compete to see who can describe their work in the most compelling presentation

Geography student Ying-Jung Chen presents “Do We Have Enough Water Resources? A View from Storage-Discharge Relations Among Local Watersheds,” looking at local water resources and drought impacts.
Geography student Ying-Jung Chen presents “Do We Have Enough Water Resources? A View from Storage-Discharge Relations Among Local Watersheds,” looking at local water resources and drought impacts.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

UC Santa Barbara’s fourth Grad Slam kicked off Monday, with 86 master’s and doctoral students competing for the best three-minute talk on their own research.

During the 10 preliminary rounds, three semi-finals rounds, and the university-wide championship on April 15, the graduate students are judged on the intellectual significance and clarity of their presentation and how well they engage a general university audience.

“I was thinking of ways to raise the profile of the importance of graduate education on campus and also to the broader community, thinking, ‘What is the best way to truly showcase our students?’” said Carol Genetti, dean of UCSB’s Graduate Division, who originated the competition in 2013.

“And so I thought that best thing was for students to be able to talk about their research so that people could really understand the wide variety of impact that our students are having in all of these disciplines and arts.”

The research the students are presenting cover everything from particle physics to local water resources to an African-American agricultural colony in Baja California.

For her presentation, Kendall Mills of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management focused on “whale strikes” — when whales are hit and killed by large shipping vessels.

“There are two types of very large creatures that we see in the Santa Barbara Channel right now,” she said. “The first one is the whales. … The second large type of creature is a container ship, and those are extremely important to the global economy.”

“For the past decade, (conservation groups) have been trying very hard to get container ships to slow down while they’re in the Channel. We know if container ships slow down to about 12 knots, whales are much better at getting out of the way of ships. But ships don’t want to slow down because that costs them money.”

Physics student Rohan Bhandari, presents “Searching for the Universe: Particle Physics in One Sentence” during UCSB’s Grad Slam event this week. Click to view larger
Physics student Rohan Bhandari, presents “Searching for the Universe: Particle Physics in One Sentence” during UCSB’s Grad Slam event this week. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

One of the solutions her research team proposed was using 2006’s California Global Warming Solutions Act as an incentive for shipping companies to slow down their vessels. The act, she explained, set up a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund in the state where a pool of money is awarded to companies that reduce their carbon footprints.

The ships reduce their greenhouse gas emissions when they slow down enough to avoid whales, which could make the eligible to apply for the pool’s funding, she said.

The winner of Grad Slam will compete in a University of California-wide competition at LinkedIn’s San Francisco headquarters.

“I was just talking with some friends and talking about TED Talks and about how compelling TED Talks are,” Genetti said. “And so the idea of doing mini-TED Talks was sort of how this all got started.”

UC San Diego quickly started its own Grad Slam competition before Genetti presented the idea to a meeting with her other UC counterparts, all nine of which have initiated their own Grad Slams.

Over the course of the competition, the UCSB Graduate Division awards more than $20,000 in prizes, with the ultimate winner leaving with $5,000. Funding for the competition came from local corporations.

The final round will take place 3 p.m. April 15 at UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Dana Bardolph, an anthropology student, talks about how few women are in the field during her presentation titled, “Why Archaeology (Still) Needs Feminism.” Click to view larger
Dana Bardolph, an anthropology student, talks about how few women are in the field during her presentation titled, “Why Archaeology (Still) Needs Feminism.”  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

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