MSE Grad Student Takes First in Elevator Pitch Contest

Syed’s pitch about the benefits of guaranteed, subsidized child care for all UCI parents impressed the judges; she won first place in this year’s competition.

Dec. 15, 2020 - Komal Syed, a doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, won first place earlier this month in the sixth annual elevator pitch competition sponsored by UC Irvine’s Graduate Professional Success in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (GPS-STEM) program. Twelve graduate students from a variety of fields participated in the contest, which was held live over Zoom.

Syed, who is in the last year of her Ph.D. program, studies the effects of different processing techniques on the structure, composition and energy of grain boundaries, or defects, in ceramic materials. She is also interested in public policy, recently completing a GPS-STEM certificate program in science policy and advocacy. She decided to focus her two-minute elevator pitch on the ways in which guaranteed subsidized child care for all UCI parents would benefit the whole university ecosystem. These include increased productivity and the ability to attract and retain talented graduate students and early career researchers.

“I focused on child care issues because there are many venues to talk about research, both on campus and off campus, but there is very limited discussion on the work-life balance of graduate students and their needs beyond the research work,” said Syed, who has a 3-year-old son, Ibrahim, and has experienced the emotional and financial challenges of trying to find good, affordable child care. “I believe it is important to speak up for the needs of the community so we can all focus on what we do best – important fundamental research for the benefit of society.”

A panel of three professionals judged the competition, awarding Syed first place and a $150 Amazon gift card. “I was very pleasantly surprised as all the pitches were so good,” she said. “I learned a lot from the other contestants.”

While initially, Syed planned to complete a postdoc and then work in a national lab after graduation, she said the pandemic shifted her career goals. “I have really developed a passion for science policy. In the immediate future, I now see myself becoming a policy fellow in either a government organization or in industry.”

-Anna Lynn Spitzer