Students consistently tell us that they enjoyed their Grad Slam experience and learned a valuable skill from it.

Grad Slam

The annual Grad Slam competition at UCSF challenges graduate students to present a compelling presentation of their dissertation research in three minutes or less, using language that not only their peers but also non-specialists will understand. The intention of Grad Slam is not to dumb-down or trivialize research; rather, it is meant to incentivize students to clarify their ideas and to help others understand and appreciate the significance of their work.

Live Event

NOTE: UCSF's 2020 Grad Slam event has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

Each Grad Slam contest culminates in an exciting live event featuring talks by the finalists. The competition takes place each spring at the UCSF Mission Bay campus with a satellite live-stream event at the Parnassus campus. Audiences at both locations can cast "people's choice" ballots and enjoy a reception following the talks. It's a celebration not only of the finalists and contest winner, but also of graduate research at UCSF and of scientific enquiry. As 2014 finalist Laura Simpson said, "This is the closest thing UCSF has to a football game!"


The following prizes will be awarded at the live event in March:

  • First Prize: $4,000 cash award
  • Second Prize: $2,000 cash award
  • Third Prize: $1,000 cash award
  • People's Choice: $750 cash award

The First Prize winner of the Grad Slam competition at UCSF is invited to compete in the UC system-wide Grad Slam, usually held in May. 

Why Enter?

First of all, being able to present your research in a concise way to a non-specialist is a crucial skill for all graduate students to have. Having such a presentation at the ready will help you with eventual job interviews and will help you to network at conferences and other events. It may even help you get funding for your ideas, and it will make you a better advocate for research, science, and education.

Being a finalist or winner of the Grad Slam contest will also look great on your CV! The Grad Slam competition will be well publicized, so finalists and awardees may get media attention as well. Additionally, each finalist will receive a professionally-edited video of their talk, to use as they wish. Finally, that prize money could help you get to a conference you want to attend or just to take a vacation! It'll be yours to spend any way you like. 

As an added incentive, and to recognize the effort involved in developing a talk and submitting a video, this year we will offer a $50 Amazon gift card to each eligible student who enters the contest with a video presentation that meets the contest guidelines and criteria.

Who Can Enter?

You must be a current graduate student in a PhD program at UCSF at the time of the live contest. (You may be on filing fee.) For the 2020 contest, you must also have advanced to candidacy no later than February 4, 2020. UCSF alumni are not eligible. Your presentation must be based on your own, original dissertation research. Students who entered the contest or who were finalists in previous years ARE eligible to enter again; however, students who won monetary prizes in  previous contests are not eligible to enter again.

How to Enter

Step 1: Declare your intent to enter by completing a simple online form by January 15. You will then be invited to upload a video of your 3-minute talk.

Step 2: Prepare. Review the contest rules and guidelines, and the judging criteria. Check out these online resources to help you craft an accessible 3-minute talk. Watch some of the winning talks from past live competitions. Attend the Grad Slam Prep Workshop with Bri McWhorter on January 23.

Step 3:  Submit a video of your 3-minute talk by the February 4 deadline.

Amazon gift cards ($50) for all eligible video entries will be distributed electronically after the video submission deadline.


There are two sets of judges for the contest. A panel of screening judges will review the initial entries, which will be submitted on video. These judges will choose the finalists to compete in the live event. A separate panel of five judges will choose the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners at the live event in the spring. The people's choice winner will be decided by the audiences at the live event and the Parnassus live-stream location.

When will I know if I'm chosen as a finalist?

The 7-10 finalists will be announced in the 3rd week of February. 


Questions may be directed to Erik Rotman, communications coordinator of the Graduate Division.