I have been invited for a phd interview and I was asked to prepare a 4 minute presentation with a max of 2 slides only on myself and my research interests. The fact that it's extremely restricted in time and number of slides makes me a bit too anxious. I'm not sure what info I'm expected to present in such a short time and in just 2 slides. Any tips?
They want you to be very specific and very quick, that's fine. That's good.
Slide 1: Who are you? Your academic past, or some other relevant information (e.g. industry experience, if relevant to your future research). That should take about 1 minute.
Slide 2: What are your research interests? Did you do a masters, and if so what is it about, what was the main result? Other things that you'd be interested in doing during your years as a student. Here it's important not to veer too far off course. Especially if you're joining a "pre-defined" program, but showing additional interests is a good thing.
Both of these slides can be set up as bullet points that cover the main sentence from each point, with or without "reveals", up to your preference. And practice with a friend, and with yourself (record and time yourself).
2 slides in 4 minutes is not an excessively low number; I'd be worried more about four minutes than two slides. The restriction is probably to make people speak from their knowledge and use the slides as a visual aid, rather than reading from Powerpoint. You want people to be listening to you except when you point to a graphic - not ignoring you while they read a slide.
My advice would be to put no text on your slides, except perhaps your name. Choose 2-4 important images, figures, or other visuals that illustrate your work, and use the slides for those. Have confidence in what you know, and you'll find that you don't need to take prompts from your own slides any more. Practice what you want to say out loud plenty of times, to make sure you don't forget something important and to make sure you're within the time (in an interview they almost certainly will penalise you if you go over time). If it helps you, maybe put a few subject headings on an index card as reminders.
You should be able to summarize your thesis in 5 minutes or to talk for 2 hours about a subset of one paper. -said a teacher I admire
In addition to (perhaps meld into) the great answer by inkblot, consider the possibility of a table on either interests or accomplishments.
Something with headings like Topic/Finding (not the full title)/Publication (add a fn for ref at bottom of slide, but the just the journal and perhaps year is enough for large text in a viewgraph.
Allows for quick scanning of the content, forces you to organize topic...and sorta emphasizes that you get things published (which is bringing the bacon home, getting the ball over the goal line).
Examples might be something like (within a topic of Taniana-steel examination)
Electrical properties/ Superconductivity at 1K, under presssure/ Science
Electrical properties/ Frustrated heating/ J. More MechE Papers (in press)
Application testing/ Underformance in pick axes/ J. Mining Tools
Application testing/ Failure in fracking pump/ J. Petr. Engin. (submitted)
(You may have some papers off the beaten track of the thesis but just put them at the bottom of the table and make clear with a cell highlight or a line across the table that these are outside the main topic.)
Of course, you can do the same thing with the hierarchical structure of PPT bullets. But a table looks cleaner and easier to read than the indented bullets. Also, lots of busy people are used to seeing dashboards.
If there is some iconic image to dress up the slide, consider to add it, so that there is a little visual impact and something showing actual content. For the example above, I would do the graph of transition point of the superconducting Taniana-steel...as it is your most noteworthy event. Obviously in a longer talk you'd have graphs from most of the papers and one per slide. But you don't have the time. And so, it will be more in the mannner of an illustration that is good salesmanship.
Don't use slides at all. They know your name. They have your resumé. Just talk. Say why you are passionate about the subject you wish to research. Say why your academic achievements qualify you to research it. Make eye contact as you do so.
If you use slides they will distract you from making those key points, and they risk distracting the interview board too. You want them to focus on you not on your slides.
By all means prepare slides that you never show if that helps you plan your talk. But don't show them!