Jan. 20, 2020

Graduate students: Unleash your research story through imagery

2020 Research Image Competition registration closes Feb. 3
2020 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition previous entries
Enter the 2020 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition Previous entries into the 2020 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition

“The Research Image Competition is a great way for students to creatively connect and engage with the wider community and communicate the exciting work being done at UCalgary.” – Interim Dean and Vice-Provost (Graduate Studies) Robin Yates launches the 2020 edition of the competition

Kinesiology master’s student Julia Daun, winner of the 2019 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition, agrees. When setting up her winning photo, Daun, supervised by Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed, PhD, asked herself, “How can I demonstrate the importance of what I do, the positive impact exercise has for individuals affected by cancer, and the motivation that I have to help make exercise part of standard cancer care in a single photograph?"

This annual competition provides a fun opportunity for graduate students to take their research outside the box, frame it and share it. Along with an image, students submit two abstracts: one technical and one for a general audience. The images and their abstracts are judged by a panel of experts and displayed on campus and online to non-specialist audiences.

The top three winners receive cash prizes and the People’s Choice Winner receives a gift card. Check out the 2019 entries and learn more about some of the research being done by UCalgary graduate students.


It gave me the opportunity to tell a story. A story that is sometimes hard to fully depict through scientific papers alone, but that needs to be told. 

– Julia Daun


Winning image by Julia Daun of the 2019 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition

Winning image of the 2019 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition.

Julia Daun

This competition allows students to mull over their research, reflect on why they do what they do, share it with the world in a unique and engaging way while sharpening their communication skills. The non-specialist abstract helps members of the community to connect with research being done on campus.

Tara Christie, manager of My GradSkills, says, “Graduate students have done an amazing job at choosing an image that best describes their research, but can experience difficulty articulating such specialized knowledge through an abstract to a general audience.” This year My GradSkills, in collaboration with Writing Support, is introducing a new workshop to help students with their written communication.

Crafting Abstracts that Connect with your Audience is happening Jan. 23. All students are encouraged to register, but the workshop is geared toward those participating in the Research Image Competition. Students will also receive feedback on their image and/or abstract before they are officially judged, giving more opportunity to fine-tune their visual and written communication skills while unleashing their creative juices.

Julia Daun, winner of the 2019 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition

Julia Daun, winner of the 2019 FGS/GSA Research Image Competition.

Julia Daun

Interested in entering?

Here are some tips from Julia Daun, last year’s winner:

  • Reflect on the story you're trying to tell and the problem you're trying to solve. “Think of your ‘why.’ What is your reason for pursuing your research studies? What are you passionate about? What is the story you’re trying to tell? You have one photo to tell this story — what will you choose?”

  • Edit your image to focus on your research. “The room I was shooting in had a mixture of quite harsh lighting and natural light, so I knew I would end up brightening the image and taking away some of the yellow from the artificial light. I also wanted the focus of the photo to be the participants, not the many details of the room, so I cropped the image ever so slightly to do just that."

  • Try different things. “Just get out and shoot! Take lots of photos, try different things, be open-minded. The beauty is you might have a vision, but the end result could be completely different, and that’s okay. That’s where the magic happens.”
  • Thank your participants. "If you are using participants from your research, prepare a small ‘thank you.’ Even something as small as a handwritten card can be a nice way to thank your participants."
  • Enjoy the process. “Leave your comfort zone, share your experience with your colleagues, friends and family, and above all, have fun!”

You can also view the judging rubric for more on how to prepare a winning entry.

On top of providing an opportunity for Daun to combine her passion for photography with her research, it has also introduced her to other opportunities she hadn’t considered before: “This competition led to my involvement in the 3-Minute Thesis, another excellent opportunity for graduate students to showcase their research.”

Students are encouraged to participate in this year’s competition to have fun, unlock their research and improve their communication skills. According to Basem Halawa, Graduate Student Association vice-president student life, “This competition assists students with learning how to communicate their research — a skill that is not only necessary for sustaining research funding, but also as a tool to market yourself toward a brighter career.” Winners receive bragging rights and cash.

  • Registration for the Research Image Competition closes Feb. 3. Learn more about the competition and how you can enter.