Science communication competition brings research into the real world | MIT News

Laurence Willemette remembers countless family dinners where curious faces turned toward her with shades of the same question: “What exactly do you do with robots?”

It’s a familiar scenario for MIT students exploring topics outside their family’s knowledge — distilling complex concepts without slides or jargon, diving deep with nothing but generic jargon. “It was during these moments that I realized the importance of clear communication and the power of storytelling,” says Willemette.

So participating in the MIT Research Slam seemed like a family dinner party.

The 2024 MIT Research Slam finalists met head-to-head on Wednesday, April 17, in a live, in-person showcase event. Four doctoral candidates and four postdoctoral finalists demonstrated their mastery of the subject and their storytelling skills by conveying complex ideas in just 180 seconds to an educated audience unfamiliar with the field or project at hand.

The Research Slam competition follows the format of the 3-Minute Thesis Competition, which is held annually at more than 200 universities around the world. An exciting competition and rigorous professional development training opportunity, this event serves as a learning opportunity for all participants.

Bhavesh Dinakar, one of this year’s competitors, explains it this way: “Participating in the Research Slam competition was a great opportunity to take my research from the lab to the real world. In addition to being a useful exercise in public speaking and communication, the three-minute time limit forces us to learn the art of Distilling years of detailed experience into an easy-to-digest story that even non-experts can understand.

In the lead-up to the event, participants joined training workshops on presentation content and delivery, and had the opportunity to work one-on-one with tutors from the Center for Writing and Communication, English Language Studies, Career Counseling and Professional Development, and Engineering Communications. Labs, all of which co-sponsored and produced the event. This cross-departmental team provided support for the entire phase of the competition, from early story development through to individual coaching sessions.

The presentation was cheerfully moderated by Eric Grunwald, Director of English Learning. He shared his thoughts on the night, saying: “I was thrilled by the enthusiasm and skill shown by all the presenters in sharing their work in this context. I was also delighted by the enthusiasm of the audience and their many insightful questions. All in all, another very successful tournament.”

A panel of distinguished judges with distinct perspectives on research communication provided feedback after each talk: Deborah Bloom, director of the Knight Program in Science Journalism at MIT; Denzel Street, senior associate dean and director of graduate education; and Emma Yee, the journal’s science editor cell.

Deborah Bloom summed up her experience aptly: “It was a pleasure as a science journalist to be on the panel and to listen to this intelligent group of MIT graduate students and postdocs explain their research with such style, humor and intelligence. This is a reminder of the importance the university places on the value of scientists who communicate. This is important. We need more scientists who can explain their work clearly, explain science to the public, and help us build a science-literate world.

After all the conversations, the judges provided constructive and objective comments to the contestants. It was a close competition, but in the end, Bhavesh Dinkar was the judges’ choice for first place, and the audience agreed and awarded him the People’s Choice Award. Omar Rutledge’s strong performance earned him second place. Among the postdoctoral competitors, Lawrence Willemette won first place and the People’s Choice, while Most Kaniz Moriam received the runner-up award.

Postdoctoral researcher Kaneez Maryam noted that she felt honored to participate in the presentation. “This experience has strengthened my ability to communicate research effectively and strengthened my confidence in sharing my work with a broader audience. I am eager to apply the lessons learned from this rich experience to future endeavors and continue to contribute to the dynamic research community at MIT. The MIT Research Slam was not Showcase was all about winning; it was about the excitement of sharing knowledge and inspiring others. Special thanks to Chris Featherman and Elena Kalistinova of the MIT Communications Lab for their guidance in practical communication skills.”

Double winner Laurence Willemette related the competition to her daily life experiences. Her interest in Research Slam was rooted in countless curiosity-filled family dinners. “What exactly do you do with robots?” they would ask me, prompting me to unpack the complexities of my research in layman’s terms. Each time, I found myself faced with the task of distilling complex concepts and turning them into digestible nuggets of information, relying only on words to express the depth of my work. These moments, after stripping away the slides and scientific jargon, made me realize the importance of clear communication and the power of storytelling. And so, when I had the opportunity to participate in Research Slam, it felt like one of those family dinners for me.

First place winners received a cash prize of $600, while second place and people’s choice winners each received $300.

Last year’s winner in the PhD category, Neha Bockel, a biology candidate working on her thesis in David Page’s lab, is scheduled to represent MIT in the Northeast Regional Three-Minute Thesis Competition later this month, organized by the Northeastern Association For research. Higher schools.

The full list of Grand Slam finalists and their talk titles are below.

PhD Candidates:

  • Pradeep Natarajan, Chemical Engineering (ChemE), “What Can Coffee Brewing Teach Us About Brain Disease?”
  • Omar Rutledge, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, “Investigating the Effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) on Social Anxiety Disorder”
  • Bhavesh Dinakar, Chemistry, “Batch from Batteries: Making Chemical Reactions Faster”
  • Sidney Dolan, Aeronautics and Astronautics, “Creating Traffic Signals for Space”

Postdoctoral documents:

  • Augusto Gandia, Architecture and Planning, “Cyber ​​Modeling – Computational Morphology via “Smart” Forms
  • Lawrence Willemette, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, “Remote Touch for Teleoperation”
  • Most Kaniz Moriam, Mechanical Engineering, “Improving the Recyclability of Cellulose-Based Textile Waste”
  • Mohamed Atef Shehab, Chemist, “Eye-Based Human Engineering to Enhance Industrial Safety”

Research Slam organizers included Diana Chen, Director; Engineering Communications Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).; Elena Kalistinova is director of writing at MIT Communications center; Alexis Boyer, Associate Director of Graduate Career Services, Career Counseling and Professional Development (CAPD); Amanda Cornwall, associate director of graduate student professional development at CAPD; and Eric Grunwald, director of English studies. This event was sponsored by the Office of Graduate Education, the Office of Postdoctoral Services, and the Center for Writing and Communication, Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Career Counseling and Professional Developmentand the English Language Studies and Engineering Communication Laboratories at MIT.

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