One of the most important talks a Ph.D. student or postdoc will ever give is the "academic job talk" presented during the campus interview for a professorship possition. An excellent talk could get the person the job, while a poor talk will almost surely eliminate them from contention.
Dr. Michele Marincovich, director of the Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning, has counseled hundreds of students and postdocs about their academic job talks. Here is her advice:
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The Academic Job Talk
Dr. Michele Marincovich
Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning
* Make sure that your talk has a broader context, so that the importance and implications of your work are clear, not merely implied.
* If, when you write your talk, you focus on what you want people to be thinking about as they leave your talk, it will help you concentrate on the essentials.
* Don't wait to prepare your job talk until the last minute - it is more than just a "brain dump" of your dissertation. It's very important to be able to go beyond your dissertation.
* Be prepared enough to allow yourself to be spontaneous; preparation will also help you handle the unexpected.
* Make your talk interesting with good examples, relevant anecdotes, and significant details.
* If speaking to a mixed audience, avoid highly technical or specialized terms.
* Academia is changing and now includes previously underrepresented groups. Use inclusive language - she as well as he, for example - and language that is respectful of all groups.
* The biggest correlates of effective teaching are enthusiasm, organization, and the ability to engage your students.
* Using humor in your job talk can be risky, but if it comes naturally to you, use it. But you don't have to, so don't fake it.
* There will usually be a "Question and Answer" period. There is no way to predict all the questions you might be asked, but you can practice by having friends listen to your talk and and then ask you the hardest questions they can think of.
* Being a good public speaker helps - a well delivered talk will carry your message more effectively.
Practicing and Nervousness:
* Practice/ do your talk in front of friends who can give feedback.
* Try to view any nervousness in a positive way, as energy or dynamism.
* Few speakers reach everybody all the time--don't focus on unresponsive audience members.
* Some audiences (especially in science and engineering fields) will be serious and unresponsive on purpose to make it more challenging or simply because they're concentrating on the presentation and critiquing it.
* Stay in touch with your audience, but don't try to decide the success or results of the talk during the talk.
If you follow these guidelines and practice several times before your visit, you should do quite well. There is, however, one important follow-up action for you to take. Write a thank you letter to your host saying how much you enjoyed the visit, mentioning by name the specific people you spent a reasonable time with, and making reference to any matters or observations that you found particularly worthwhile. Conclude by indicating your understanding of the next steps, and be sure to enclose any additional materials you promised to provide. Writing such letters may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many applicants don't do it - and, therefore, what a difference it makes when you do.