I'm invited to give a seminar talk on a topic of my own choosing during my tenure-track position interview. Am I supposed to make it a "true" seminar talk about one specific topic, or should I also (briefly) discuss other areas I'm working on?

(The other research areas are somewhat remote to the actual topic of the talk, so it's not easy to naturally integrate them.)

1 Answer 1


No, a job talk is not just a regular seminar. You'll need to focus more on selling yourself, your field, and your research agenda, not (only) present some interesting research.

Generally speaking, job talks tend to have the following coarse structure:

  1. Speaker Intro (who you are, keep this part short)
  2. Research Overview (your overall research agenda)
  3. Deep Dive into one topic (select one topic and go into details)
  4. Outlook (what do you plan to do in the future? what's the impact of your research?)

(1) is more of a tradition, I think most listeners don't really care about this part as the info you give here should be pretty much visible from your CV anyway. (2) is important, as it should show the audience that you actually have an agenda that goes beyond what you did in your thesis or in your good papers. (3) is not much different to a regular conference or seminar talk (4) is again pretty crucial, as you'll need to sell not only that your work is good for somebody in your field, but that your field is one that is of great interest to the faculty and science in general.

Also remember that your audience is going to be not only from your field, so you cannot overwhelm the audience with a lot of technical detail all the time. Some advice from my PhD advisor was: part (1) everybody needs to understand, part (2) needs to be understood by the people that work in reasonably close fields, part (3) should not be entirely comprehensible for anybody but you, part (4) needs to be understandable for everybody again.

(the comment re point (3) was of course somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the idea is that for (3) you will really need to sell that what you are doing is not only important, but also difficult and interesting, which means you shouldn't oversimplify here)

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    I don't entirely agree with (at least the wording of) (3). You may be interviewing with just a specific research group, or with the whole department. In the latter case, I think it's better to try to make your talk more like a colloquium (i.e., for a general departmental audience) than a (specialized) seminar talk. Either kind of talk can get you hired, but the former is more likely to get more people excited about you.
    – Kimball
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:28
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    @Kimball I was writing this under the assumption that any "tenure-track" job interview is not with a specific group, but with "the faculty" (maybe represented by a committee). This is at least true in all universities that I am aware of.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:33
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    @Kimball The advice that I have been given is that, especially if you are interviewing for the entire department, you don't want to dumb down your research. Essentially, you don't want to transport the idea that what you do is somehow easy or a natural extension of what somebody else is already doing,
    – xLeitix
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:36
  • When there is a targeted search for someone in a specific area, it may only be the faculty in that area making the hiring decision. Anyway, I agree you don't want to dumb down your research. I just wanted to say I think one should be careful not to make too much of the talk too specialized (in my case (3) would make up ~90% of the talk), and you may want to avoid spending as much time on technicalities you might in a seminar talk. But some people have different opinions of what makes a good job talk.
    – Kimball
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:51
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    +1 I've heard his part 1 easy, 2 medium, 3 hard,4 easy advice before, and I'd apply it within the deep dive section as well. When you start on the deep dive, take a moment to catch anybody you might have lost during your research overview by stating in simple terms what this deep dive will be about, then dive right in. At the end of the deep dive, collect those you lost on the way by summarizing in simple terms what you just did. Feb 26, 2015 at 22:10

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