A UWaterloo innovation: The GRADflix competition

With its many start-up incubators and entrepreneurial support programs, it’s easy to understand why University of Waterloo has been named Canada’s top innovation university for 29 years running. There is no exception when it comes to the “out of the box” entrepreneurial thinking of Waterloo’s staff, who are always looking for innovate new ways to provide programming for graduate students.

The process to develop new graduate student programming starts with identifying the needs of students, and in early 2018 the one thing we heard loud and clear was that graduate students wanted more opportunities to share their research. As we looked at opportunities already available for students (conferences, departmental seminars, Three Minute Thesis (3MT) and GRADtalks, to name a few) we noticed that they all had one thing in common – they required graduate students to stand up and orally present their research in front of an audience. This created several limitations for disseminating research: 1) Physical location; students could only take part in these opportunities if they were physically on campus (or able to physically travel to conference locations) and their audience was limited by those who could also be physically present, and 2) Nerves; Public speaking, while an important skill, is not comfortable for everyone – especially when we consider that our GRADtalks and 3MT events are well attended by the campus community.

In identifying what was already available, and the limitations of those opportunities, we started brainstorming. We wanted an opportunity that would be accessible to all graduate students, even if they were conducting research in other parts of the world. We wanted to engage graduate students who dislike public speaking (because, let’s be honest, many of us do!). We wanted to allow graduate students to learn new skills and support students in leveraging different communications tools, such as social media, to share their research with an even larger audience. Out of this, came GRADflix!

GRADflix, developed by Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, is a research communication competition where participants create a video of no longer than 60 seconds that describes their research. Participants learn new skills (both in communication and digital technology), gain greater exposure for their research, and can win cash prizes! We think it’s a great innovation!

We might be a bit biased, but you don’t have to just take our word for it! Six other Ontario universities have now introduced their own GRADflix competitions, and our past participants also agree with us:

I think this competition is a fantastic opportunity for graduate students to present their research, and in turn make connections and start meaningful conversations. In our present-day, it is essential for researchers to explain their research in plain language so that general audiences can understand, as well as present it in the form of a video since a lot of [research] communication nowadays isn’t just happening at conferences, instead a lot is being shared over the internet. I also think it’s really important for people to see all the innovative research that is being done at UWaterloo!” - 2020 GRADflix participant

Now that you’ve heard about our innovation, we want to hear about yours! We know that our graduate students are engaged in exciting, new, and innovative research and we want to see your GRADflix video to learn more about the amazing research that you’re doing. I encourage you to be part of this innovative and growing competition – see how far your research can reach!

Registration for the 2022-2023 GRADflix competition is open until November 22.