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?

  • This might depend on your field and the country in which it occurs. Say more? In particular, how focused are you expected to be on a particular research topic?
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 12:16
  • @Buffy it's a computer science phd in the NL and it's a pre-defined phd topic. In the email, all they said regarding the presentation is that they expect me to present myself and my research interests in no longer than 4 minutes and in not more than 2 slides.
    – Tanina
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 12:24
  • They want an "elevator pitch".
    – user9482
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 12:31
  • @scaahu thank you, I saw the answers on that question, there are some good tips. However, what's mostly bugging me is the number of slides. I don't know what content I'm supposed to put in just 2 slides.
    – Tanina
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 12:38
  • 4
    I'm still thinking about a proper answer, but don't make the mistake of using "dense" slides. You want to make an impression, not flood them with detail. Forcing you to create such a presentation is a great idea, I think, since it forces you to focus.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 13:40

4 Answers 4


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).

Good luck!

  • 2
    +1, I'd even suggest to replace the second slide with a figure that shows the result. A picture is worth a thousand words (and I'm sure OP can talk about their thesis without further prompts). Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 13:55
  • 1
    I'm worried about slide 1. The overall focus of everything should be forward looking, not the past. While the past can't be ignored, half the talk shouldn't be backward looking. Introduce the past only to show how it invigorates the future.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 14:13
  • @Buffy: Yes, but if you want to talk about who you are, you need to say who you are. Where did you come from? What did you do? That's an indelible part of the question who you are. It's an introduction. The future? I know the future. You want to be a PhD student in this program.
    – Ink blot
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 18:35

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.

  • The OP seems to be in the position of giving a presentation at a PhD interview, not a presentation based on work previously done during a PhD. So I am not sure how relevant the details in your answer would be for the OP
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 5:38

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!

  • 1
    I don't foresee this going down well with a job interview committee
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 23:00
  • Maybe it depends on local practice and maybe on the subject matter. I do not claim that my experience is universal. Nevertheless, if I were on the committee I would be looking for just what I have prescribed. And I have sat on more than enough such committees (UK and Central Europe) to know what is wanted.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 23:03
  • This is in the context of someone being interviewed for a PhD place/studentship. Is that the context of your extensive hiring committee experience?
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 2:25

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