UC Davis neuroscience graduate student Stela Petkova on a rocky coastline

Meet the Grad Slam Finalists: Stela Petkova


Stela Petkova

Stela Petkova

​Program and Degree: 
Neuroscience, Ph.D., 2nd Year

Research Interests: 
Genetic Mouse Models of Autism and Rare Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Grad Slam Presentation Title:
Putting Together the Autism Puzzle

What initially attracted you to your field of study?
As a kid, I thought I was going to be anything but a scientist or a doctor. A historian, a lawyer, a librarian, you name it, I thought that could be my future. But then I met neuroscience. I was a sophomore in high school taking Advanced Placement Psychology and I fell in love. I loved the brain, all the things it did and how it could go awry. I got interested in autism from a singular lecture in a neuroscience course at Wellesley College and my love rooted and grew and grew. The more I found out, the more passionate I became. When applying for graduate study, I knew I was going to pursue autism research and start flipping over pieces of the puzzle.

How would you describe your presentation style?
Energetic and engaging!

What was the biggest challenge you faced in developing your presentation?
We love our research and when someone asks about it, it's hard not to gush about the small things we do in a day, all the small experiments and all the methods. But in reality, most people won't connect with that. Most people want to know the big picture. The most challenging thing about speaking for three minutes is how to balance gushing about your cool experiments and promoting the excitement and importance of your work.

Aside from your graduate research, what are your other passions or hobbies?
My passion is always exploring. I want to experience everything which means I'm known to try every restaurant and bar in Davis and Sacramento, hike new places, travel, run long distances and triathlons, paint, read science fiction while petting my fluffy cat, go to concerts, ballet, sporting events and go on long bike rides alongside the river. My motto in life is "Try everything!"

Are you #TeamStela?
Cheer her on at the April 5 UC Davis Grad Slam Finals. The event is free and open to the public, but seats are limited so reserve your ticket via Eventbrite today.

About Grad Slam

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 should present the significance and fundamental points of their work at UC Davis in a clear, direct, and interesting manner.

Participants are judged on how well they engage the audience, how clearly they communicate key concepts and how effectively they focus and present their ideas—all in three minutes or less.

Grad Slam contests are held on each of UC’s 10 campuses from February through May. The first place winners from each campus will square off to capture the systemwide title and their share of $10,000 in prize money.

For more information on the competition, visit grad.ucdavis.edu/gradslam.

Secondary Categories

General News Graduate Student Success Grad Slam