Learn about the GRADflix experience

Every year, Master's and PhD students from every faculty participate in the University of Waterloo GRADflix competition, creating 60-second videos describing their research and showcasing the amazing ideas and ambitions of our community of graduate researchers. But what is it like to actually participate? To boil down your research into just 60-seconds, to work on creating a video that will engage a wide audience of your peers, and to see a glimpse of everything being done at Waterloo through the work of other competitors?

Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs has followed up with previous participants in the GRADflix competition. Winners, finalists, or competitors, we connected with them through short interviews to discuss their experiences. What they gained from participating. The skills they developed during the competition. Their plans for the future. 

Below you can read short profiles from past GRADflix participants, and watch videos where they share their experiences and thoughts on topics that might be relevant to you. This is an ongoing collection, with more profiles being added regularly.

Meet our GRADflix participants: 

Anna Good

Photo of AnnaHistory, Faculty of Arts

GRADflix video title: Forgotten voices of the World Wars: Examining attempted solider suicides through Canadian army court martial documents

Anna’s research examines documents of four soldiers who attempted suicide during the world wars. Her goal is to “help give back the agency that has been unintentionally stripped from soldiers”.

In her interview, she discusses what inspired her to research this topic, why it is important for students in history to share their research, and why she decided to use stop motion animation. Regarding next year’s competition, Anna says “don’t hesitate and sign up. Signing up can be the toughest part, but […] after doing so you’ll notice that your mind just starts to think about different ideas and different ways you could convert your research into a video.”

Marina Ansanelli

Picture of MarinaPhysics and Astronomy, Faculty of Science

GRADflix video title: Understanding Causality

Marina’s research is centered around understanding more about the deepest underpinnings of nature, by means of investigating the foundations of Quantum Mechanics. 

In her interview, she describes the thought processes that went into condensing a complex abstract topic into a 60 second video, where to start, and how the GRADflix experience changed how she explains her research to friends, family, and others outside of her field. Thinking about advice for future competitors on knowing what to focus on, Marina said “try to think why your work is interesting for you”.

Karen Hock

Photo of Karen HockSchool of Public Health Sciences, Faculty of Health

GRADflix video title: Mission: PhD

Karen Hock’s research focuses on promoting healthier beverage consumption. Karen hopes her research will help inform policies around the world aimed at improving diet quality and preventing obesity.

Karen has been a participant in three GRADflix competitions to date. In her interview, she shares her motivation for participating year after year, her appreciation for this creative outlet for her research, and her hope for others seeing the work she is doing. Karen says “I’ve been able to improve my science communication skills and share my research in new and exciting ways. I’ve also learned video and editing skills, which I probably would not have learned otherwise.”

Andrew Stella

Andrew StellaChemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
GRADflix video title: Robust, wearable sensors for firefighters made using conductive polymers

Andrew Stella is a Master of Science student in the Department of Chemical Engineering. His research focuses on synthesizing polymers that can be used to detect the presence of toxic gases. With modern printing technologies, Andrew hopes that the sensors he is working to develop can be woven directly into the material of firefighters’ coats, warning them of colourless and odorless hazards in the air surrounding the site of a fire. With a background working with companies like ExxonMobil, Formlabs, and DuPont, Andrew certainly has the industry experience to help make these practical applications for his research a reality.

With his research video, Andrew won both the First Place and People’s Choice awards in the 2023 GRADflix competition, making him the first ever competitor to do so. In this interview, he shares his motivation for participating in GRADflix, his thoughts on the importance of research communication, and how he used simple props and techniques to create an amazing stop-motion video that captured the attention of both our judges and the wider audience.

Caitlin Laidlaw

Caitlin Laidlaw

Geography and Environmental Management, Faculty of Environment
GRADflix video title
Local attitudes towards snow leopards in western Nepal (YouTube)

Caitlin Laidlaw is an MES student in the department of Geography and Environmental Management. In 2022, while conducting research abroad in a remote region of Western Nepal, she gathered footage of her work and the people and places she connected with. Upon returning to Canada, Caitlin collected and edited her footage into a 60-second video to use for her GRADflix submission, going on to win second place in the 2023 GRADflix competition.

Caitlin has been studying human-snow leopard conflict in Nepal, a complex situation often oversimplified by North American audiences focused more on the charismatic megafauna than the human impacts. In her GRADflix video Local attitudes towards snow leopards in western Nepal, Caitlin shone a light on how local communities often face the hardship or burdens of large carnivore conservation, exploring their perspectives and pathways towards coexistence with snow leopards.

In this interview, Caitlin shares her experiences of filming the raw footage for her GRADflix video during her weeks of research in Nepal. She discusses why she chose to participate in the 2023 GRADflix competition, how she addressed the challenges of capturing footage in the field, and what advice she has for any students considering participating in the next competition.

Yuzhe You

Yuzhe You

Cheriton School of Computer Science, Faculty of Mathematics 
GRADflix video title
InfoVis for AI explainability (YouTube)

Yuzhe You is an incoming PhD student in Computer Science at Waterloo, and was a Master of Mathematics student at the time of participating in the 2023 GRADflix competition, where she was chosen as a finalist. She is a member of both the WatVis (Waterloo Visualization) research group directed by Prof. Jian Zhao, and the iTSS Lab directed by Prof. Liping Fu. Her research involves information visualization (InfoVis) for artificial intelligence systems, with a focus on visualizing Adversarial Machine Learning (AML) and Traffic Analysis. Specifically, she develops interactive visualization tools that enhance AI interpretability and help improve the “adversarial robustness” of machine learning models.

Yuzhe’s playful and creative GRADflix video evokes the nostalgic 8-bit pixel style of classic video games to create a fun and visually appealing presentation. Yuzhe explains that she “hoped to create a video that was both informative and approachable, and to convey the idea that computer science research can also be fun, exciting, and creative.” In keeping with that theme, creating the video was a combination of art and programming. Yuzhe drew all of the pixel art for the video using an iPad, then programmed the animations using a game engine to bring their artwork to life. From there, she set the game to autoplay and screencast it. So while the final video might appear as an animation mimicking the style of a videogame, in actuality it is a real, playable videogame that Yuzhe created and filmed!

Yuzhe explains that a focus of her research is how to visualize AML to make it more interpretable for practitioners of any background. To do this, she incorporates “beginner-friendly” designs into her visualization systems. In creating her GRADflix video, she applied the same philosophy, using engaging visual aids and animations to illustrate the key concepts and ideas behind her research, in order to make the video as clear as possible for a general audience.

The most challenging part of the video creation process for Yuzhe was finding a way to accessibly explain a highly nuanced and technical field of study in a concise 60-second time frame. In order to accomplish that, she deliberately shifted focus from technical details to the background implications of her research, using visual aids to explain the dynamics and importance of her work in broad strokes.

For other students from Mathematics or other technical fields, Yuzhe suggests a similar approach can be beneficial. “My advice would be to shift the focus from technical details to storytelling. Highlight the implications and impacts of your research, and use engaging visuals to supplement them. The goal is to present your work in such a way that it is understandable and interesting to everyone. With clear language and some creativity, you can effectively communicate technical research to a wider audience.”

Prior to GRADflix, Yuzhe reportedly had difficulty conveying the intricacies of her work to others outside her field. The process of creating her GRADflix video, of shifting her mindset to that of a storyteller, helped her to understand the importance and value of simplifying concepts and using concise language when communicating her research. In the end, she explains, participating in GRADflix has taught her how to effectively communicate the significance of her work, while also allowing her an opportunity to combine her expertise in computer science with her passion for art, showcasing her creativity to a wide audience.

Looking ahead, she plans to share her video on different platforms to reach a broader audience, in addition to submitting the video to other research communication competitions. Meanwhile, she believes that the communication skills she developed during the GRADflix competition will help with future presentations and talks, as well as potentially creating research demos and educational materials.