Congratulations to GSAS SynThesis 2024 Finalists and Winners

May 03, 2024

Imagine giving a talk to a room full of scholars, friends, and judges, when someone suddenly holds up a big sign that says “30 Seconds” to indicate that time is running out. That scene played out over and over on April 25th, at the 2024 SynThesis competition. Fourteen master’s students took turns presenting their thesis research in three minutes with the aid of just one slide—no notes allowed—as they competed for cash prizes. SynThesis is managed each year by the GSAS Compass Graduate Career Development office and hosted by Compass director Rachel Bernard. The event is fast-paced, covering a variety of fascinating topics from the ecological impact of a dam in Paraguay, to collaborators in wartime Ukraine, to the use of fungus to make textiles, to an old Japanese ghost story.

Myles Davis, one of the judges, is both a GSAS alumnus and a SynThesis winner from last year. As Davis watched this year’s presenters gather in the Faculty Room of Low Library, he said, “I remember how this moment feels. I know everyone here is reciting lines in their head.” Davis said he would be paying attention to “how digestible the talk is for a non-specialist audience. We don’t know those terms they have been working with for two-plus years. They have to cut those out and focus on the high-level ideas. It’s like doing a press release. It’s such an important skill for their professions.”

The presentations kicked off with Lulu Bird explaining the power of TikTok as an influential messaging platform in the 2024 presidential election. Ariel Urim Chung showed an inviting photo of hands cooking in a kitchen, as she discussed elements of sexism and racism connected to Asian food. Nathan Motulsky’s slide featured a flowering plant next to a photo of earth shot from space to illustrate the theme of nighttime and darkness in an 1808 novel. Cici Wang explained how a pop song in China went viral and created a term for older uncles, changing the way people talked about extended families.

While the judges deliberated on these compelling presentations, attendees and online viewers voted for audience favorites. Meanwhile, the presenters could finally relax and compare notes. Taylor Francisco, a member of the Navajo tribe, gave a talk about the importance of Native American data representation. To compose her speech, Francisco thought, “How would I explain this to my undergrad self?” Agustina Carvallo, who talked about the dam in Paraguay, said “I wrote a word-for-word script and repeated it in the shower.” But in the final presentation, she relaxed “and improvised a bit.” Sanjana Malhotra, who studies geotagging in India, prepared by watching YouTube videos of past SynThesis presentations.

Host Rachel Bernard proudly announced the results. Among the audience choice winners, Taylor Francisco won Most Innovative Presentation. The Best Communication Audience Award went to CiCi Wang. Audience Choice for Best Slide was awarded to Leyre Santos Vidal for comparing militant activities in Northern Ireland to those in the Basque country, illustrated by two war murals. Vidal also tied for SynThesis third place overall. “English is my second language,” said Vidal, “I speak Spanish. But I feel passionate about my subject.” The other third-place winner was Anusikha Halder, who gave her talk on coming-of-age themes in modern Asian-American literature. Halder was pleased that her sister was watching online from Bangkok—especially after she won an award. Halder said that, to her, SynThesis was “the elevator pitch of who you are academically.”

Lucy Holland won second place with her presentation about the re-introduction of bison herds into Europe’s ecosystem. “Before I presented, when I was just sitting, that was more nerve-wracking,” said Holland. “But when I was up there speaking, I was calm.” Holland appreciated the cash prize. “I will save half and spend the other on a trip to Nashville. I’m from the UK, and I want to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

Isabella Giancola won first place with her talk, “Not-So-Great Schools: How’s Rankings Capture Peer Quality and Not School Quality.” Giancola was surprised and thrilled to hear that she won. In the fall, Giancola will be starting the PhD program in Economics at NYU. “Hopefully I’ll do more presentations. I like presentations. It’s like academic theater.”

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences congratulates all the Synthesis 2024 participants and winners!

FINALISTS (in order of presentation)

Lulu Bird (Global Thought)
Ariel Urim Chung (Oral History)
Nathan Motulsky (English and Comparative Literature)
Isabella Giancola (Economics)
Crystal Cheng (East Asian Languages and Cultures)
Jasmine Ureno-Diaz (American Studies)
Taylor Francisco (Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences)
Leyre Santos Vidal (European History, Politics, and Society)
Sanjana Malhotra (Sociology)
Alice Mee (Russia, Eurasia, and Eastern Europe: Regional Studies)
CiCi Wang (East Asian Regional Studies)
Anusikha Halder (English and Comparative Literature)
Lucy Holland (Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology)
Agustina Carvallo (Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences)

See entire SynThesis 2024 program here.