Feb. 26, 2024

A slam dunk for knowledge translation at UCalgary

2024 Postdoc Research Slam celebrates breadth of research through plain language competition
2024 Postdoc Research Slam Finalists
The 2024 Postdoc Research Slam Finalists Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

There are over 500 postdoctoral scholars at UCalgary bringing their expertise and ingenuity to advance research to improve the world. The fifth annual Postdoc Research Slam is an exciting opportunity for UCalgary postdocs to distill their research projects into a three-minute plain-language presentation. 

After receiving over 50 plain-language abstract submissions to participate in the slam, 12 finalists were selected from across six faculties to present their research.

"The Postdoc Research Slam is a testament to the truly remarkable breadth of research conducted by our postdoctoral community,” says Dr. Katrina Milaney, BA’92, MEd’07, PhD’14, postdoctoral program director and associate vice-president (research). “It's inspiring to witness the impact and scope of our scholars’ research endeavours that contribute to shaping our understanding of the world.”

The slam is modelled after the Three-Minute Thesis competition, where finalists are evaluated on their communication style, and the comprehension and engagement of their presentation.

Cody Coates, Office of the Vice-President (Research)

People’s Choice winner Dr. Ana Watson, PhD’22, had never participated in a pitch-style competition before, believing them to not be a fit for a social researcher with a multicultural background. She found the event offered coaching and mentorship making it a different style of competition with resources to support participating researchers throughout the process.

“Research sometimes feels like a lonely and individual exercise, but it is not,” says Watson, a postdoctoral scholar in the Faculty of Arts Department of Political Science working with associate professor Dr. Roberta Rice, PhD, and professor Dr. Melanee Thomas, PhD. “As a researcher, I believe that our work should transcend the academic communities and impact society and the Postdoc Research Slam is an opportunity to do both.”

Because of the event’s inclusive format and safe environment, Watson wanted to participate in the competition, to motivate other female researchers from different cultural backgrounds to be a part of future events. “Although we might think that this is a competition among other postdoctoral researchers, it is a competition with yourself,” says Watson. “It is not about comparing your research with others, but to overcome your fears and shine with your own light.”

Dr. Jordan Lee, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar working with Dr. Aaron Phillips, PhD, applied to the Postdoc Research Slam to bring awareness to the life-threatening blood pressure issues that people with spinal cord injuries face, and share the promising results of the implantable technology their lab is currently testing to treat this in patients.

Lee wanted an opportunity for more public speaking practice and learned in preparation for his pitch how to relate to his audience and adapt an engaging presentation style. “Even though science is about being objective, I am realizing how much of an art form presenting science can be and the importance of imbuing my personality into research pitches.” 

Lee was awarded first place in the competition and spent a lot of time refining the theatricality of his talk, such as tone of voice, figuring out where to pause, and body language. “Overall, the experience was a great training opportunity to improve my communication skills. I am very thankful for the mentoring provided by everyone that coached me in preparation.”

2024 Postdoc Research Slam winners

1st Place: Dr. Jordan Lee, PhD, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Cumming School of Medicine — Electrical Stimulation Improves Blood Pressure Stability After Spinal Cord Injury (PI: Dr. Aaron Phillips, PhD)

2nd Place: Dr. Niki Cho, PhD’21, BKin’15, Department of Critical Care Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine — Harnessing the Gut Microbiota as Immunotherapy to Prevent Infections in the ICU (PI: Dr. Braedon McDonald, MD, PhD)

3rd Place: Dr. Gabriel Knott-Fayle, PhD, Werklund School of Education — Learning to be Boys: Addressing Gender‐Based Violence In and Through Education (PI: Dr. Michael Kehler, PhD)

People’s Choice: Dr. Ana Watson, PhD, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts — Pluralism in Canada’s low-carbon future: Assessing the Social Acceptance of Carbon Dioxide Removal Technologies (PIs: Dr. Roberta Rice, PhD, and Dr. Melanee Thomas, PhD)

For postdocs who are considering applying to future research slams, Watson says to think about the impact of your research to society and who will benefit from your work. “We find inspiration and strength when we put a face in our research. For me, it was my daughter and thinking on a sustainable carbon net zero future that does not leave anyone behind.”

Lee was told from his adviser to ‘speak to the heart first’ when developing a talk, so made this a central element of his pitch. “My advice is to tell a powerful story that the audience will become invested in.

“Think about how your work could impact an audience member and why they should care about what you're working on.”