Ecology Student Advances to Grad Slam Finals

Man standing to make presentation
Ecology student Matt Savoca makes a winning presentation at Davis Friday to advance to the finale of the UC Grad Slam on April 22. (ATS Video)

Quick Summary

  • Competition builds skills, highlights research contributions
  • Participants judged on three-minute presentation for lay audience
  • About 500 students compete

Doctoral student Matt Savoca talks trash — well enough that he's just earned a spot in a prestigious University of California competition for communicating graduate research.

The ecology student won a campus contest on Friday and will compete against nine winners from sister campuses in the UC Grad Slam finale in San Francisco on April 22. Check out his competition.

Building skills, highlighting research

He is one of 500 participants who have built valuable skills over the course of the competition that also shines light on how graduate students are engaged in wide-ranging — and often game-changing — discovery in fields spanning hard sciences to humanities.

“It was an honor and overwhelming,” Savoca said about winning the Davis competition.

The Ph.D. candidate — who grew up on New York’s Staten Island near what was once the world's largest garbage dump — took the stage to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song "That Smell" and presented his research on why marine animals eat plastic garbage in the ocean.

Like others, he has worked hard to boil down years of study to explain the what and why of his research for a lay audience in three minutes, TED style.

The topics of other finalists’ presentations will range from renewable nanopower and climate change to long-term cancer survival and the cost of alcohol intoxication.

Bringing expertise into public sphere

UC President Janet Napolitano explained the benefits of the competition. “When scientists and scholars are able to communicate their research without jargon, it helps them connect with colleagues outside their field, get fellowships and land career opportunities,” she said. “But even more critically, it allows them to bring their expertise into the public sphere, where we all can benefit from their knowledge.”

Napolitano will emcee the Grad Slam finale, to be judged by a panel representing leaders from industry, media and government. Winners will share in $10,000 in prize money.

The competition, hosted at the offices of LinkedIn, will be part of a daylong Workforce of the Future Summit, held in partnership with UC and the Bay Area Council. The day will also feature a panel discussion by UC, government and industry leaders on the role of the research university in cultivating the landscape of jobs and opportunity.

Media Resources

Julia Ann Easley and Nicole Freeling

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