How does one choose which speakers to invite to research seminars? There are some obvious points of consideration, for example if it is a seminar with a more or less specific topic, then the speaker should have some work related to the theme of the seminar. However, there are still a few other points of consideration:

  • Is it more common to invite early career researchers, or full professors?
  • How much of role does personal connection play?
  • Proximity/travel funds available

From what I experienced so far, there often seems to be a healthy mix of younger and older speakers, as well as people who live nearby or far away. Some insight in how people in charge of organizing regular seminars go about this would be appreciated.

  • 4
    It depends. What are your objectives for the seminars?
    – 410 gone
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 10:17
  • To our seminar we usually invite people we have cooperated with, are cooperating with or would like to cooperate with. Depending on the specific cooperation the talk might be given by a PI or a phd student.
    – user9482
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 11:10
  • People known for giving good talks is a good metric, especially for colloquiums. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 12:17
  • It may depend also on the budget you or your department have for talks. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 12:42
  • Thanks for the input. This is about regular research seminars, so no specific objective, apart from keeping in touch with other universities and keeping an active scientific dialogue in the research group(s). Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 19:05

2 Answers 2


I organized our department's seminar series recently. This is what I did:

know your audience

Are you trying to build collaborations with your department? Are you trying to expose your students to new ideas?

I'm at an all undergrad institution. We wanted speakers who might be recruiting grad students. So I looked to bring speakers from institutions where we've sent students in the past. I also wanted to expose the students to research areas not represented by our small faculty.

You know what you want. Who do you want to hear from?

what's the budget

We had very little in the way of budget, so I focused on nearby institutions. Luckily there are a hand-full of institutions within a 3 hour drive. Plus, it's way less trouble to get a speaker to come down for an afternoon. It's a pain for everyone when dealing with plane tickets and a hotel rooms.

I also looked around for some additional money. There are often specific instances where a funding agency like NASA or NSF will have money to send speakers around. You may not get to pick who you get. I was able to bring in someone from across the country who would have been way outside our usual budget.

cold call

People you already know are more likely to respond, but you won't make new connections if you don't try.

I dug around on department webpages, looking for anyone who seemed interesting and emailed them. I also asked if they could recommend one of their grad students or post docs who could come in their place if they could not.

Many potential speakers keep a list of available talks on their personal webpage. Ask for a specific existing talk, or a small modification to one. That's less work for them: more likely to come.

fill in with personal connections

After I got some spots on the agenda filled, I contacted the people I know. I can more easily convince them to come on some day that no one else wanted.

If you still have holes, go back to your closest neighbors. There is some grad student who can come (especially if you offer free lunch).

invite a mix

Hearing about the same thing week after week is boring. Try to invite a mix of topics and/or speakers.

  • junior/senior faculty / private researcher / post doc / grad student
  • men / women
  • big research university / small college
  • local / far flung
  • etc...

In the end you're in charge, so do what you want. If your colleague doesn't like the schedule, let them put it together next time. :)


You aren't paying anything, except for travel expenses and perhaps a lunch. Beggars can't be choosers.

You'll have to shop around to get whoever is willing to come. Make sure to have a few wildcards at hand, for weeks where somebody cancels at the last moment or you just can't find anybody. Graduate students willing to do a dress rehearsal for their defence, students who have to do a presentation for a class anyway, local faculty interested in recruiting students for graduate school, ... are all options to keep in mind.

It is OK to have a theme mix, it would be nice if you can organize, say, a month of speeches on a common theme (perhaps have a local give an introduction, and foreigners flesh out details), but that is optional.

Just make sure that whatever schedule you define, is filled up. Having too many cancelled seminars just looks bad.

Don't expect too many attending, in my experience this will attract half a dozen people or so. Get a smallish room, a small room full with 10 people looks fine, a large room filled to a fifth of capacity with 20 looks empty.

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