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I have a job talk for a tenure-track assistant professorship coming up, and I am having trouble deciding on the format. I have a few ideas/options, and I'd like to hear the perspective of some folks who've seen more job talks than me (or been on a hiring committee).

  1. I want to demonstrate to the department that I have researched a lot of different topics, so it is tempting to try and discuss all of my recent projects (roughly under the same general field). However, for each of my projects they require so much background that I don't think I will have enough time to really demonstrate the impact and relevance of each project. This might be too "rapid-fire".

  2. I could go the "Just pick a few papers and talk about them" route. I am not a big fan of job-talk format, as it gets repetitive and boring to me. However, this is what I've seen the most, and it looks like the "safe" option. This also comes with the downside of not being able to mention all of the research topics I have expertise in.

  3. Since I can categorize my papers under 2-3 "subcategories" of my field, I could organize the talk to have different sections on each subcategory. Then, in each subcategory, I could say "I have all of these papers on this particular subcategory. Now, I'll tell you about one or two cool things I've done in this subcategory." However, I have not seen a talk like this, and I'm wondering if it would be viewed as too pedagogical or risky.

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  • What kind of position is this for?
    – Sursula
    Jan 19 at 8:58
  • @Sursula an assistant professorship, thanks for asking I added it to the question. I need to demonstrate that I have interesting topics to work with students as well.
    – grouse
    Jan 19 at 8:59

2 Answers 2

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I would take a different approach. The best job talks I have seen tell a broad story about your overall research questions and try to link together your PhD and postdoc. Let's stay you study underwater basketweaving. Your talk outline might look like this:

  1. Overview:
    • Why do people care about underwater basketweaving? (ub)
    • Your broad questions, the thermodynamics of ub
  2. Question 1 (your PhD work perhaps)
    • Thermodynamics of ub near deepwater sea vents
    • Overview of methods, results, key findings
  3. Question 2 (your postdoc perhaps)
    • Thermodynamics of ub in freshwater lakes
    • Overview of methods, results, key findings
  4. [Optional] Question 3 (your postdoc side project perhaps)
    • Effects of climate change on thermodynamics of ub
    • Overview of methods, results, key findings
  5. Future work
    • Questions you want to ask
    • Tools you have to answer questions
    • Resources you would use (perhaps uni's research lake or field site)
    • Collaborators at this institution (especially important for schools that want faculty to work together)
    • How you would include undergrads/grad students (based upon department's focus and your field
    • Possibly also mention the types of courses you would teach.

Edit based upon comment: Individuals papers (or conference proceedings and the like) may be building blocks, but the questions/objectives are more important and hopefully shows trends that go across projects and papers. These talks are a chance to include screenshots of papers' titles and author lists. For example, you if your PhD had multiple papers you might have a slide stating:

  • Slide 1: How does thermodynamics of underwater basketweaving vary near deepwater sea vents in the Pacific?
  • Slide 2 or transition: Screen shot of paper and figures from paper
  • Slide 3: How does thermodynamics of underwater basketweaving vary with worms at the site?
  • Slide 4 or transition: Screen shot of paper and figures from paper
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    To make what I believe is one of Richard's points more explicit: "paper" is probably not a very important unit of research for the purposes of a job talk, so probably you should not think in terms of "categorizing your papers". Jan 19 at 14:12
  • @AdamPřenosil great point. I added an example of how to include papers. Jan 19 at 16:10
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    My wife recently obtained a tenure-track assistant professor position and the recipe you describe is exactly what was successful for her.
    – Ian
    Jan 19 at 18:35
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"Job talk" can mean almost anything -- from a presentation to the search committee to a routing speaking slot in the department's weekly seminar series. In "normal" job searches these days, both can happen at different times during the same visit.

If you're talking about the latter (the general seminar slot), I would pick the project that's nearest to the research you would like to continue doing, or the project where most of your time is going right now, depending on which you feel would make the strongest talk.

If the former, those are usually less formal, but in that case I recommend a walk through your projects in the order you'd like to approach them if you get hired. Each project should be presented very briefly, just so everyone in the room knows what it is and why it's important, and your plans for getting those projects funded. Your first project should be something you can do with limited resources.

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