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Meet the Grad Slam Finalists: Sam Westreich

Sam Westreich among Davis turkeys.
Sunday, April 9, 2017 - 5:00pm

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Sam Westreich

Program, Degree & Year of Study:  
Integrative Genetics and Genomics, Ph.D., 4th year

Previous Degree(s) & College(s): 
B.S. in Genetics & Cell Development, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Research Interest: 
Gut microbiome, metatranscriptomes, bioinformatics, computational biology

Title of Grad Slam Presentation: 
A Better Understanding of the Gut Microbiome through Metatranscriptomics

What initially attracted you to your field of study?
Genetics has always been fascinating - it's the "computer code" that tells how living things work! I never expected to find myself using computers to analyze genetics, but a well-built computer program can make sense out of huge amounts of genetic data. I loved the idea of using computers to answer many questions at once, instead of one at a time.

What did you do to prepare for Grad Slam? 
To prepare for Grad Slam, I practiced, practiced, and then did even more practicing! I wrote an outline to cover the broad points I wanted to hit, and then practiced, with a stopwatch running, until I could cover all points in a smooth and fluid manner.

Did you encounter any obstacles while preparing for Grad Slam? How did you overcome them?
Talking about my work is always difficult - as an expert, I sometimes forget that others don't have the broad knowledge base that I've built up from years of study. I had to constantly step back from my words and ask myself, "Would someone with no experience in my field be able to follow what I'm saying?"

What do you think sets you and your presentation apart from the other contestants? 
While every contestant has a passion for their work, I especially enjoy explaining my research to others, teaching the basics instead of trying to immediately dive into specific details. I hope that my presentation will leave the audience with new knowledge - and new questions they'd never considered before!

What are your other passions/hobbies? 
When I'm not writing code, I relax by writing fiction, and have completed several novels. It engages a different part of my brain, giving me a temporary respite from tough science challenges! I also enjoy hiking and adventuring out into nature whenever it's nice weather outside!

UC Grad Slam is an annual contest in which master’s and Ph.D. students across UC campuses – in disciplines ranging from hard sciences to humanities – compete to sum up their research for a general audience. Students present the significance and fundamental points of their work at UC Davis in a clear, direct and interesting manner.

Over 80 master's and doctoral students from across UC Davis' 99 graduate programs submitted proposals for this year's competition, which kicked off with a qualifying round on February 28 at the ARC. Faculty and staff from across UC Davis volunteered to serve on the judging panels.

The finalists will compete against each other at the UC Davis Final Round at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art on April 14 from 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public, and is co-sponsored by the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. Registration is now open at

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