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I will have a postdoc interview soon. They asked me to introduce myself, what I am passionate about and interested in for a 30-minute. They did not specify if I should prepare a PowerPoint slideshow. Given pandemic circumstances, it is going to be a video interview. On one hand, if I prepare and go through the slides, they are not going to see my face anyway. On the other hand, if I don't prepare, it may seem like "unprepared." I am confused.

I appreciate your thoughts. Stay healthy and safe, all!

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    I guess the motto is: if in doubt, yes. What's the worst that can happen? You lose some time.. but imagine if they wanted to see some of your work and then things get messy. I'd definitely prepare something. – rammelmueller Mar 22 at 16:24
  • Don't worry about not being perfect at this style of lecture. This is a new situation for most of us, and we are all learning. You should obviously do your best, but no expects perfection in this situation. – Maarten Buis Mar 22 at 17:01
  • Related, possibly a duplicate: Is a postdoc-interview presentation a norm? – Wrzlprmft Mar 22 at 17:01
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This could depend a bit on the field, of course. But I find powerpoint to be mostly very badly used. Someone once described the typical PP deck as the speaker's notes that shouldn't be shown to the audience. If that is what you tend to do - show a slide and then just repeat a longer form of that orally, then I wouldn't bother.

There are some people who are truly gifted in the use of PP, but not everyone is. You don't want to be boring.

But prepare the deck and, at least use it for your own notes while speaking. Depending on the field there may be other, more important, visuals you can use. Even a whiteboard.

And, given that it will be remote, you could prepare a deck and send it to them for possible distribution and then do something else rather than just show it during the presentation.

If there is a two way communication system (audio - video) where you can ask and answer questions it would certainly be better than just a lecture-like presentation. I suspect very few people will take notes on your actual content and will be interested in other things. Some students might, but not future colleagues.

And try to present it to a friend or colleague before you 'go live' to get some feedback and to be sure of the timing. I'd suggest a bit too short is better than one that is too long. Leave them wanting more, not exhausted.

But in an orthogonal vein, make sure you understand who the audience is. Researchers? Students? Graduate or undergraduate.

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  • The audience is going to be the other researchers and the directors of the lab. So, to clarify, are you suggesting that I could prepare the deck, send them in advance, and address the issues in orally during my presentation without necessarily showing the slides? – Denis Tylor Mar 22 at 20:23
  • It would depend on your PP skills. But it works as an organizing tool in any case. – Buffy Mar 22 at 21:03
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My advice is to do most of the interview as a live video (camera, mike on you). But do go ahead and make a slide or two that shows some effort to think about the specific posting (or at least the lab group/PI) and your initial work plan related to the postdoc job.

I would position this as "initial thinking" and move the discussion naturally into a collaborative session. "Well what do you think we should do?" "What are some key hurdles WE (not I) should watch out for?" "What are the juiciest opportunities to get near term wins? Big papers?"

If you can get the interview moved into a discussion of actually DOING the job, you're three quarters of the way to landing the job.

And of course, if the PI wants to ask some specific questions, definitely let him. But realize most managers (and professors aren't even good managers) are not full time HR interviewers. They mostly think about doing their job and hiring/interviewing is an infrequent task and not a strength.

I have ALWAYS found some pre-work product for an interview (company capsule, speculative work plan, etc.) was very strongly appreciated by the interviewer. And I never had an issue of it coming across as controlling the interview too much. ("This is some preliminary thinking I had.") Also, in cases where a position was a transfer of field for me, I found that the effort to think about what/how I would do it (and to write it down in a PPT) made me more prepared for the interview and gave me more comfort that I could make the change...because I had actually started to do some work in that direction. (Thoughts running around in your head are not the same as a PPT. The writing process drives more thinking.)

Note, you can also send it a day ahead of the interview as some people prefer to print slides vice looking at the screen. And it makes it less a surprise and allows them to spend more/less time in the interview on discussing it or just asking you if you get along with people and work hard and all that other happy horsesh...

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  • That's great advice! Thank you! In terms of the outline, I planned it to be for 8-10 slides maximum and sending it in advance for their reference, as you suggested. Perhaps, a couple of slides about my research, what skillset I obtained during my PhD, and how I can transfer those skills for the Center, and finally what future directions I see working at their research center. What do you think? – Denis Tylor Mar 22 at 20:28
  • That's perfect. 10 maximum. – guest Mar 22 at 21:10
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If you are thinking of doing anything really important to your career using Power Point, I urge you first to read Edward Tufte's article "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint".

The issue with slides is that your audience look at them and do not listen to you. That is a big problem if the whole point of the presentation is supposed to be about how YOU will contribute to their work.

A picture is (or can be) worth a thousand words, so a slide can be really helpful. But as @Buffy has so perceptively said "... I find powerpoint to be mostly very badly used. "

My practical suggestion is: plan what you want to say without thinking about slides at all. "What would I say to these people to convince them that I am the person they really want to hire?". Then, and only then, ask yourself is there some image or (possibly, but take care) some notation or equation, that would save me reciting lots of stuff that would distract them from my main message? If the answer to that is yes, then by all means construct a slide, but do so ONLY if the answer is yes.

I base this answer on my own experience as having successfully applied for several high level appointments as well as some more definitively academic processes, but also as someone who has sat on numerous recruitment panels. Frankly, one's heart sinks when the PP presentation seems to be all that the candidate wants to say. Do not make your selectors' hearts sink.

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An interview is your chance to demonstrate your skills and convince your prospective PI (as well as the rest of the panel) that you are the best candidate for the role. Your knowledge of the subject is very important, of course. But so are your technical skills required to prepare publications and presentations for various audiences. Your prospective PI may prefer a candidate who is already familiar with necessary software to do the research, but equally with tools required to present them. And a well-prepared presentation can serve as an excellent evidence of your technical skills and (by extension) hint that you have an extensive experience presenting your research.

The selection panel will see many candidates during the day, and many of them will talk about their experience, skills and potential. If you have a chance to show something instead of talking about it, I would suggest to do so.

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Yes, you should create some slides.

You have 4 situations which you can order along two dimensions: You are either expected to show slides or you are not, and you can either make slides or you can not. If you are expected to show slides and you do make them, happy days. If you are expected to show slides and do not make them, you fall short of their expectations, risk a bad impression, and risk not getting the job for stupid reasons. If you are not expected to show slides and you do make them, you are doing more than they expect, which might leave a positive impression. You may be asked not to show the slides, but in that case you can still use them for yourself to guide your presentation. If you are not expected to show slides and you do not make them, no harm done.

So there is no real downside to making a presentation. At the same time, there is no real upside to not making a presentation. You will need to think about how to walk through your academic life in 30 minutes anyway; adding slides shouldn't be too taxing.

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