QSB’s Portia Mira Places Third at GradSlam Finals

May 4, 2018

Portia Mira scored $1,000 for winning third place in the University of California’s 2018 Grad Slam competition , marking UC Merced’s first appearance as a top-three finalist during the systemwide contest.

In three minutes, Mira -- a doctoral candidate in the quantitative systems and biology program -- explained her research that examines reversing antibiotic resistance.

“I honestly was not prepared for my name be called,” Mira said. “The competition was tough. I could not have done this without the support and guidance of the Graduate Division and (Grad Slam coach) Jane Binger.”

“We are thrilled about the outcome,” Vice Provost and Graduate Dean Marjorie Zatz said. “Portia did a spectacular job presenting her groundbreaking research. She nailed it, and we couldn’t be prouder.”

Grad Slam helps emerging scholars and scientists make their research more accessible by providing them with skills to engage the public in their work.

In her research, Mira used mathematical models to study the effectiveness of antibiotic cycling. By rotating structurally similar antibiotics, Mira identified 16 different resistant strains of E. coli that have a 60 to 100 percent probability of returning to an antibiotic-susceptible state.

That means “we can use antibiotics we already have to push the bacteria in reverse, making the infections they cause more treatable,” Mira said.

More than a half-dozen supporters traveled to this year’s finals competition -- held at LinkedIn’s San Francisco headquarters -- to cheer for Mira in person. The group included Binger, Zatz, Associate Dean Chris Kello, faculty advisor Miriam Barlow and Mira’s husband Andres, a UC Merced alumnus. At the campus, the Graduate Division hosted a pizza viewing party for students and QSB faculty members.

“I feel honored to represent UC Merced this year, and am so grateful to have placed,” she said. “Grad Slam has helped me learn how to effectively communicate my research and feel more comfortable presenting in front of audiences. There is nothing to lose but so much to gain.”

Mira successfully completed her Ph. D. last month and will graduate during UC Merced’s commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 13.

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