Go to job talks

Dec 11 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

PSA: Are you a graduate student or postdoc thinking about applying for academic jobs in the future?

Watch. Job. Talks.

Watch them when not your area.
Watch them even if they don’t seem interesting
Watch them in the mornin’.
Watch them if you have to sneak in.

You’ll find out what a good job talk is like. Job talks aren’t quite the same animal as seminar talks. The goal of the speaker isn’t quite the same. It’s not just “here’s some cool data and a story”, more “look upon my fledgling research program and despair!” The talk is part of the application package designed to make people think “that person would be a great PI. Throw a bag of money at him!”

You’ll find out what a bad job talk is like. I have seen plenty of bad talks. Not overall awful but with a clear problem or two. Too much detail. Not enough detail. Awful slides with tiny fonts. A speaker that didn't know how to answer questions. (That is perhaps an underrated skill.  Learn to answer questions well.)

You’ll see which candidates the department likes & which it doesn’t. Ask for people’s opinions about the talks. This is the profession you have chosen. Try to figure out how it works beyond your PI’s stump speech about fit and working hard.

6 responses so far

  • Cedar Riener says:

    Yes. Couldn't agree more. Also, when it comes time to give a job talk, polish the hell out of it. Show it to people out of your area, because they will be confused, and focus on the font, or the other stuff that other people aren't paying attention to since they are focused on the content. This is one thing that I think throwing a ton of time at unquestionably helps (unlike other areas of academic science). Make sure every slide is perfect, that you know exactly what you are going to say on every slide, that you know exactly how long it will take.

    And when answering questions, always repeat the question so the whole audience can hear, this allows you to rephrase and check that you've understood it as well: "So the question as I understand it was..."

  • SEL says:

    Trouble is, some job talks are open to students and some aren't. Our department has each candidate give a presentation of their previous research projects (here's what I have done as a postdoc and/or grad student) which is open to anyone, and then they also give a "research proposal" presentation that is only open to faculty.

    The "previous research presentation" can still be useful though....it gives graduate students an idea of the level of accomplishment that faculty candidates need to have. (OK, she published 7 papers in top journals, and I've got....not that many....)

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    As a teaching committed institution, we had candidates teach a meeting of an undergraduate class in their area. We at one time had a chair, who, about 15 minutes into the research presentation, would stand up and ask, "What hypothesis are you testing?" This would ruffle and confuse most postdocs.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    The job talk is critical.

    One reason not mentioned in the main post is that faculty will often use it an an indication of a candidate’s teaching potential. As I wrote before, "If faculty are lost during your seminar, they are not going to believe that you can make glycolysis and the Krebs cycle clear to first year students." ( http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2010/10/truth-about-teaching-statements-part-2.html )

  • Absolutely. You can actually learn a lot from watching a bad talk. Not a lot about the topic, but a lot about what not to do. If you are squirming in your seat thinking "what is your point already?!?" just start this thinking about how the talk could be better.

  • Bad job talks are much more informative than good ones when it comes to figuring out how to give a good one.

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