Chemistry graduate student wins third place in the 2024 UCLA Grad Slam

Posted on

Shelby Vexler

Third-year chemistry graduate student Shelby Vexler (biophysics track, Chen group) won third place at the UCLA Graduate Division Grad Slam competition on April 2, 2024.

Vexler’s 3-minute prize-winning talk was titled “From Foe to Friend: Viruses that Fight Bacteria”.  Vexler conducts research in Professor Irene Chen’s group. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry-molecular biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2020. 

“It’s wonderful that our talented students are so passionate about engaging across disciplines,” Vexler’s Ph.D. advisor Professor Irene Chen said. “They set an example for us faculty to follow!”.

Shelby Vexler’s prize-winning talk.

In a UC College article celebrating the UCLA College’s 2024 UCLA Grad Slam participants, Vexler said in a Q&A:

What do you love most about the subject you’re researching? My research revolves around phages, which are viruses that infect bacteria. I first learned about phages and the concept of using them as an alternative treatment for antibiotic resistant infections in high school. I was instantly intrigued, as I had just lost a good chunk of my summer vacation to a case of walking pneumonia that required two different antibiotics to treat. For me, it’s very gratifying to work directly on the subject that sparked my pursuit of a scientific research career.

What are your plans for after completing your doctorate? I’d like to continue my academic career as a postdoctoral researcher.

Shelby Vexler received a $2,000 prize at the final competition on April 2nd.

Grad Slam is a campus and UC-wide competition that showcases and awards the best 3-minute research presentations by graduate students. The competition aims to strengthen the important career development skill of articulating graduate research concisely and effectively to a non-specialist audience. It also highlights the excellence, importance and relevance of UCLA graduate students and their research.

The 2024 Grad Slam comprised a preliminary round video submission, followed by in-person semi-final rounds on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at the UCLA Kerckhoff Grand Salon, and culminated in a final competition and celebratory reception held on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. The final competition was live-streamed.  Students prepared for their presentations through a series of workshops.

1st place winner Melis Çakar (Neuroscience), 2nd place winner Soulaïmane Bentaleb (Bioengineering), 3rd place winner Shelby Vexler (Chemistry & Biochemistry), and Audience Choice winner Nicole Zeltser (Human Genetics).

First, second, and third place winners in the UCLA competition receive graduate student support awards in the amounts of $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000 respectively, and an Audience Choice of $1,000. The campus winner will advance to a University of California competition that will be held in San Francisco in May 2024 and will compete against the nine other UC campus winners.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,