Can you tell the story of a complex research project in just three minutes? Could a presentation emerge from extreme time compression, morphing like a diamond from charcoal? The April 11 MIT Research Slam Public Showcase focused on these questions and more as the four postdoctoral and five graduate student finalists competed for cash prizes.
The ability to convincingly present scientific research to an intelligent but non-specialist audience is a core skill for success in any professional context, within academia or beyond – and the MIT Research Slam competition provides a supportive but competitive arena to to improve these skills. The Research Slam Public Showcase gives each participant 180 seconds to present their research, a format used by over 200 universities around the world for annual competitions. In addition to the thrill of competition, these events offer trainees the opportunity to develop and showcase their research communication skills.
In the weeks leading up to the event, attendees participated in training workshops on pitch content and delivery, and had the opportunity to work directly with educators from Career Advising and Professional Development (CAPD), the Engineering Communication Labs, and the Writing and Communication Center, who jointly sponsored and produced the event.
Simona Rosu, Senior Assistant Director of Postdoctoral Career and Professional Development at CAPD, explains why this event is of particular value for doctoral students and postdocs: “Being able to present their research achievements to laypersons in a clear, persuasive and concise way is a key qualification for the Career development of PhD students and postdocs. It will help you to put together meaningful application documents; shine in interviews, job interviews and networking; and compete convincingly for funding opportunities, be it in science or in industry.”
The finalists included five PhD students – Leonard Boussioux, Juana De La O, Reuven “Beny” Falkovich, Olivia Kim and Vrindaa Somjit – and four postdocs – Maria Kanelli, Jamie Karthein, Constantinos Katsimpouras and Scott Odell. Topics ranged from superconducting qubits to melting protons.
A jury of experienced judges gave feedback after each presentation. Alisa Machalek, team leader and science communication and public relations at the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease; Jermey Matthews, senior acquisitions editor at MIT Press; and Babak Movassaghi, CEO of Vitruvia Holding, served as judges. After the event, Movassaghi said, “What a pleasure to be a part of the judging panel at this year’s MIT Research Slam. Kudos to all the passionate PhD students and postdocs who mastered the challenge of explaining their complex scientific research in just three minutes with flying colors.”
At the end of the evening, Jamie Karthein was the judges’ choice in the Postdoc category, Scott Odell became runner-up and jamie in addition won the hearts of the audience and was awarded the audience prize for postdocs. After the competition, Jamie said, “What I found most valuable was being able to use a new communication technique to talk to a wide audience about my very basic physics research. I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with the audience during the question and answer session.”
In the doctoral class, Leonard Boussioux received the highest honor and the audience award, closely followed by Reuven “Beny” Falkovich. Leonard enthusiastically summed up his research slam experience: “As I am interested in an academic position after my PhD, I found the three-minute thesis exercise very enlightening … I also realized that it is practical, anytime, in front of anyone Audience pitching I’m doing with my time, and of course I saw myself explaining what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks.”
First place winners received a cash prize of $600, while runners-up and Audience Choice winners received $300 each.
A full list of Showcase finalists and the titles of their talks can be found below. Video contributions published by the speakers can be viewed on the MIT Research Slam YouTube channel.
Research Slam organizers included Diana Chien, director of the MIT School of Engineering Communication Lab; Simona Rosu, Senior Assistant Director of Postdoctoral Career and Professional Development at CAPD; Elena Kallestinova, director of the MIT Writing and Communication Center; Alexis Boyer, Associate Director of Graduate Career Services at CAPD; Amanda Cornwall, Associate Director of Postgraduate Professional Development at CAPD; Viraat Goel, MIT graduate student in bioengineering, Communication Lab Fellow and representative of the Graduate Student Council External Affairs Board; and Pradeep Natarajan, a graduate student in chemical engineering at MIT and a Communication Lab Fellow. The awards were sponsored by MIT Career Advising and Professional Development.