Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

October 26, 2016

Research Slam! winners pictured from left: Ramya Tunuguntla, Michael Homel, Anna Belle and Daniel McCartt.

Research Slam! winners pictured from left: Ramya Tunuguntla (1st place, $4,000); Michael Homel (2nd place, $3,000); Anna Belle and Daniel McCartt (tied for 3rd place, $2,000). Photo by Carrie Martin/LLNL

Picture this: it's the day of your first poster presentation as a postdoc. You've picked out your best professional suit (or your only professional suit, reserved just for this occasion), your poster has been beautifully printed with help from the Lab's print plant, and your heart is racing with nerves and excitement. Your first interested visitor stops by, quizzically glances at your poster, and asks you for a short synopsis of your research for the non-specialist. How do you reply?

Preparing for those types of scenarios is exactly what the Lab's first Research Slam was all about. A competition to see who could give the best three-minute research presentation, using no more than three slides, the Research Slam was an opportunity for postdocs to showcase their research, as well as strengthen their presentation skills, particularly for a non-specialist audience. Inspired by the UC Grad Slam competition, the fall event included a semifinal round and a final round, during which postdocs competed for $4,000, $3,000, and $2,000 dollar prizes for first, second, and third place, respectively

The event garnered strong interest from PLS postdocs; two-thirds of the slam submissions were from PLS. Kristin Lammers, an Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division (AEED) postdoc from Temple University in Philadelphia, presented at the September semifinals on "Dissolution kinetics of silicates as a function of pH at elevated temperatures." She prepared by practicing her speech, watching TED talks, and giving three-minute talks with Toastmasters. What she appreciated most about the competition, she says, is how it helped equip her for the types of short synopses she would be expected to give at a conference. "There are so many times at conferences where people ask you about your research, so three-minute talks are important," she noted. "It's a special skill to learn."

Chen Zhou, an AEED postdoc from Texas A&M University, expressed similar sentiments after his semifinals presentation on the "Impact of decadal cloud variations on the Earth's energy budget." Zhou also prepared by watching relevant videos, practicing on his own, and asking others for suggestions. "I think the most helpful part is the practice," he noted. He also emphasized the importance of these types of events for the Lab. "It lets us know what other people are doing at the Lab, it improves our presentation skills, it helps us learn from other people's presentations, and it provides a platform for communication," he said. "I learned a lot from this experience."

The postdocs' hard work and preparation did not go unnoticed. PLS' Kris Kulp, a semifinal judge and event co-organizer, observed: "The presentations were all of very high quality. The postdocs were obviously well prepared and did an excellent job of communicating the impact of their science in a mere 3 minutes. They made it really hard to judge their talks!"

At the final round of the slam, held at a local winery on October 20, 2016, PLS postdocs took the spotlight. Three out of four winners hailed from PLS, including first place winner Ramya Tunuguntla from the Biosciences and Biotechnology Division, and second and third place winners Michael Homel and Daniel McCartt from AEED. Postdoc Anna Belle from Engineering also tied for third.

When asked if it was important for the Lab to hold events such as the Research Slam, Tunuguntla responded definitively. "Yes, definitely. It was fun to prepare and participate in this event."

See Postdocs shine at Laboratory 'Research Slam!' for more information.