[Grad-postdoc-assn] Fwd: TP Msg. #1085 The Academic Job Talk

Vanessa Schweizer vanessa at ucar.edu
Thu Mar 17 21:31:24 MDT 2011

Dear all,

Thought some folks would be interested in this post from the Tomorrow's
Professor mailing list. If you are not part of this mailing list and
interested in academic jobs, I recommend joining. Instructions for how to
join are at the end of the post.


Vanessa Schweizer
ASP Postdoctoral Fellow
Climate and Global Dynamics (CGD) Division &
Integrated Science Program (ISP)
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
P.O. Box 3000 | Boulder, CO 80307 | USA

Phone: +1 (303) 497-1713
Fax: +1 (303) 497-1314

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Date: Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 8:42 PM
Subject: TP Msg. #1085 The Academic Job Talk
To: tomorrows-professor <tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu>

In the end, remember that the job talk is not another defense of your work.
You don’t have to prove your competence. Instead, consider it a
demonstration of your ability to contribute and collaborate as a potential
colleague and as a clear communicator. That’s what your audience is most
interested in knowing.


Archives of all past postings can be found at:

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The posting below gives some great tips on preparing for the all important
academic job talk. It is from the February 2011 issue of the
online publication, Graduate Connections Newsletter: Professional
Development Network Tips and strategies to give graduate students a leg up
in launching a professional career [
http://www.unl.edu/gradstudies/current/dev/newsletter/], pp 4-7, from the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is published by the Office of Graduate
Studies. ©2011 Graduate Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Reprinted
with permission.


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Practices of Successful (Group) Leaders

Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs

------------------------------------- 1,230 words

The Academic Job Talk

THE “JOB TALK” is perhaps the single most important thing you’ll do during
an academic interview. On the basis of your presentation, you’ll be
evaluated as a scholar, teacher and potential colleague. A dynamic talk is
likely to result in a job offer, while a poorly organized, flat or
uninspired presentation will almost certainly eliminate you from

Here are some key points to consider as you prepare for an academic job

                                              Before the Talk

Different institutions and disciplines have different expectations about the
length and format of the job talk. Make sure you know what is expected of
you. Attend job talks in your department. Listen to how faculty members
evaluate the talk, then figure out what works and what doesn’t. Use this
information to guide your preparation.

Find out who will be attending the job talk.

Knowing your audience will help you decide how specific or technical you
should make the presentation. For example, if the audience is primarily
undergraduates, you’ll want to spend more time explaining the significance
of your work. Also, ask about the format of the talk so you’ll know how much
time you’ll have.

Your research talk will probably be related to your dissertation, but
remember, this isn’t a dissertation defense. Dr. Jonathan A. Dantzig (2001),
professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, advises: “make sure that everyone who attends
your seminar learns something.” He notes that a good job talk should answer
the following questions:

• What problem have I worked on?
• Why would anyone work on this problem?
• What is significant about what I have done?
• How has my work made progress on the problem?

He offers this sample structure for a 45-minute research job talk:

Content        Time  Target Audience                Detail Level / Purpose
Background     15    Everyone present               Your parents would
understand it

Your approach  10    People in related fields       Show you know the field

Your results   10    People who work in your field  Show that you are the
world expert on something

Summary        10    Everyone in the room           Relate your results to
the big picture

Prepare an organized presentation. Good presentations have a beginning, a
middle and an end, often referred to as the “3 Ts”: Tell ‘em what you’re
going to tell ‘em; Tell ‘em; and Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

If you choose to use a Power Point presentation, don’t use complete
sentences on your slides, because you’ll invariably end up turning your back
to the audience and reading the slides verbatim. Instead, follow these
general rules:

• Two- or three-word phrases for each point; avoid long sentences
• Generally one topic per slide
• Title for each slide
• Generally no more than 6 words a line
• Generally no more than 6 lines a slide
• Larger font to indicate more important information
• Font size generally ranging from 18 to 48 point
• Bullets to highlight your text items
• Don’t overwhelm your audience with fancy fonts, shaded backgrounds or
custom effects (for example, words or phrases that fade or dissolve or
graphics that fly in or out). These “enhancements” are sure to distract the
listener from your presentation.

For more tips on creating effective Power Point presentations, see the next

If your material is too detailed to put on a slide, consider using handouts
instead. But be sure the information is not too complex and that any tables,
charts or graphs are clearly labeled. Finally, make sure you bring with you
enough copies of the handouts with the pages stapled together.

Now that you’ve prepared your presentation, practice it.

Practice in front of your adviser, some fellow graduate students, and at
least one person who knows nothing about your subject matter. Perhaps invite
some undergraduates to the mock talk. Get their comments, then practice it
again. Make sure your seminar is at an appropriate level for the various
audience members (e.g., faculty, postdoc fellows, graduate students,
undergraduate students). Get as much feedback as you can.

Practice it again. Time yourself. If you’re using slides, figure out which
slide corresponds to the halfway point of your presentation. That way, you
can tell whether you’re going too slowly or too fast – while you still have
time to do something about it. If you’re running short of time during the
talk, it’s better to cut a pre-planned optional section in the middle than
to be prevented from giving the conclusion. And don’t try to include every
minor detail. Keep the big picture in mind.

                                                     During the Talk

Remember that an “extemporaneous” presentation – planned thoroughly in
advance yet delivered in a spontaneous manner – will be far more convincing
than a scripted one. In other words, don’t read your presentation. Keep in
mind the purpose of your talk. You are not delivering a research paper.

Ask the audience to hold questions until the end except for brief questions
of clarification. Otherwise you’re likely to get interrupted and run out of

Start by providing an overview of the topics you’ll be covering.

Be sure to explain near the beginning why a non-specialist might be
interested in your work. Near the end, be sure to explain why your
substantive conclusions are of importance beyond the immediate topic of the

Maintain eye contact with the audience.

Choose people at various locations in the room and systematically sweep your
eyes around to be sure you engage the entire audience. Avoid standing right
in front of the projector. You’ll end up obstructing the view of people near
the front, and you’ll also be partially blinded by staring into the
projector’s light. If you use a laser pointer, slowly circle around the item
you want the audience to attend to, instead of trying to point at it
directly. If you point and you’re nervous, your shaky hand will be greatly
exaggerated by the laser beam.

Don’t stand in one spot during the entire presentation. Make use of both
horizontal and vertical space when speaking. When asking or answering
questions or emphasizing a point, move toward the audience. Create presence.
Be unpredictable in your physical movement, but don’t pace back and forth.

                                                  After the Talk

The question-and-answer session following your talk can be as important as
the talk itself. The best way to prepare for this portion of the job talk is
to anticipate the kinds of questions that might be asked, then practice
responding to them. Often the biggest challenge is to understand what the
questioner is asking.

Pause before you reply. If you’re not sure what the question is, ask for
clarification by restating the question in your own words and asking if that
is what the questioner meant. It’s okay to take notes on the remarks from
the audience, especially on an interesting point that you hadn't considered.
And it’s not a crime to say, "I don't know. That’s a great question and it
would make a great follow-up research project." (Just don’t answer every
question like that.) Finally, never, ever argue or become defensive with the

In the end, remember that the job talk is not another defense of your work.
You don’t have to prove your competence. Instead, consider it a
demonstration of your ability to contribute and collaborate as a potential
colleague and as a clear communicator. That’s what your audience is most
interested in knowing.


The Academic Job Search, Rice University Career Services Center.

Jonathan A. Dantzig (2001). Landing an Academic Job: The Process and the
Pitfalls. Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February 22, 2001.

Perfecting The Job Talk by Professor John Eadie, Department of Wildlife,
Fish & Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis,

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