20

I am applying for postdoc this year. I was given standard one hour for my job talk. I prepared for a 45-50 minute talk and 10-15 minutes for Q & A. But probably I spoke bit too fast and also people didn't interrupt me, my talk was over by 30-35 minutes. Is it really bad for getting a job?

  • 11
    Different people would consider it differently, and we can't guess what this particular PI / committee thinks. It's over now, no point in worrying. – Nate Eldredge Oct 25 '16 at 19:45
  • 6
    Well, there was this student giving a really fascinating, smooth, didactically perfect, seminar talk, everyone was fully absorbed, and when she finished, everybody was freshly filled with interesting information, and wide awake instead of in the usual post-seminar torpor - a rare event after exhausting and demanding 1-hour seminars, for a change. Then, she looked at the watch, and, surprised, she said "oh, I just used 25 minutes". Ouch! Bottom line: never wake the audience to reality if it's happy. – Captain Emacs Oct 25 '16 at 20:45
  • 4
    @CaptainEmacs That student's name? Albert Einstein. – Josh1billion Oct 25 '16 at 21:10
  • 6
    @Anonymous: Actually, I think as a postdoc you should have given a lot of talks already, been to conferences, etc. Therefore, a postdoc should know how to keep the time. Usually stretching it out too long is way worse than finishing early for a conference program. – Ian Oct 26 '16 at 6:12
  • 5
    I am confused about the two close votes for this question as being "off-topic". This question seems to be 100% on-topic for this site. – Pete L. Clark Oct 26 '16 at 19:06
38

Giving such a short job talk is a negative rather than a positive. Generally the point of a job talk is to engage and impress the audience with (i) your research and (ii) you as a potential research colleague. They want to hear a narrative that starts from a place they know and builds up to some impressive results, ideally that they would like to hear more about over the coming months and years. If other candidates are "filling the space with good content" and you come up 33% (or whatever) short, then you risk creating the impression that you don't have 60 minutes worth of good things to tell them.

That's just an impression though. People who care will look back through your dossier, so you needn't worry too much about that. Moreover, usually there are only a small number of candidates brought in for job talks and interviews, and a talk / interview has to be really bad indeed in order for those who were supporting you (in the current job market, getting interviewed is certainly a very strong show of support) to change their mind. Ending very short doesn't seem to qualify in my opinion: people who are not in your favor may point out that your talk was short, while those in your favor will think "So what? S/he's still a good candidate..."

You shouldn't be thinking in terms of having killed your chances for a job but rather of having not fully exploited the opportunity you've been given. Based on what you write I will guess that you are not very experienced giving 60 minute talks. (And in fact that's how you're going to look more than anything: inexperienced at giving such talks.) That's something that's easy to improve upon: practice more at giving such talks. Nowadays most people use powerpoint/beamer, which makes it pretty easy to control the pace. For something like a job talk, you should have at least one "dress rehearsal," i.e., a practice talk in front of real, live people who will stop to ask you questions. If you did that and still came up that short, there's something to figure out: did you get so nervous that you skipped a lot of material? If so, you can compensate by making more slides.

Let me end with an anecdote. When I was on the job market, I gave one talk much earlier than the rest: it was from my perspective before the semester even started. For this and various other reasons I did not have a "dress rehearsal." I had the opposite problem: I had way too many slides (I mean actual slides, printed onto clear plastic and put on an overheard projector; this was 11 years ago) and I ended up plunking down slides full of dense text and then skipping most of the text. I went on to give three more versions of the same talk at other places, all of which were much more polished. Where did this shaky job talk take place? At my current institution. They hired me anyway, though I heard that one of my colleagues was motivated to look back at my teaching letters for reassurance.

  • 7
    Dress rehearsal is so key. We need a question on how to prep for interviews/campus visits. – StrongBad Oct 25 '16 at 20:48
  • 11
    Overhead slides were common 11 years ago? Sounds more like 21 years ago. – Sverre Oct 25 '16 at 21:51
  • 3
    @Sverre: In my field (mathematics)? Yes. But mathematicians are very resistant to powerpoint presentations. To this day I have used powerpoint/beamer exactly once at my university: as preparation for a talk I was giving elsewhere the following week. Not only have I never used powerpoint/beamer in any class I've taught, I've never seen it used in a university course. From what I understand, this is quite unusual. – Pete L. Clark Oct 25 '16 at 23:40
  • 1
    @PeteL.Clark We may be very resistant to using slide presentations in the course of normal teaching, but we are much less resistant to using slide presentations when making research presentations. – Christopher Drupieski Oct 26 '16 at 1:54
  • 10
    @Christopher: (Hello.) Much less resistant than when teaching? Sure. But still quite resistant compared to other fields. Even in 2016 some of our job talks used chalk. Later this month I will give a talk at MIT...with chalk. If you give me an hour and guarantee that I will have a blackboard that everyone can see, I will use chalk 99% of the time. Not every mathematician is like me, and younger ones are less likely to be like me...but a lot are, including some of the younger ones. And by the way, if your priority is being understood rather than getting through: don't use slides. – Pete L. Clark Oct 26 '16 at 3:34
9

There is really no way to know how this was perceived by the audience, and there is nothing you can do about it - so I wouldn't worry about it.

However, I think there is a chance that some people could interpret this in one of the following ways:

  1. You were not prepared well enough - either by not planning the talk for the correct amount of time or by going through it too fast.
  2. You were not prepared well enough - since you did not bother to ask what is the common practice with respect to questions and/or were not able to adjust accordingly.
  3. You did not have enough material to fill the expected time.

Personally, I never attended a job talk that was 15 minutes shorter than it is supposed to be.

In the future, I suggest you prepare better by practicing and designing the talk accordingly (e.g. have optional extra material). Also you should try to inquire about the expected length and whether people usually ask questions during the talk.

But again, it might be a non-issue in your specific case.

7

The time itself is not a big problem; there are more important questions.

  • Was your speech fluent and logically ordered or chaotic?
  • Was it easy to hear you speaking or it sounded like lullaby?
  • Was your speech exciting or boring?
  • Were your slides accurate, well designed and well ballanced or it was heap of text, full of blurry (or boxy) figures?
  • Was your speech well supported or there were major flaws?

The only way the length of your speech can affect your chances is when the choice is reduced to you and someone with very same qualities except for the speech length.

Tl;dr
30 minutes of exciting talk is way better than 55 minutes of pure boredom or nonsense.


#8 Phase transition
enter image description here Boredom is condensig.

1

The time itself is not likely to be a problem ,although, for those with an ax to grind, it provides the grit. A job talk is to sell yourself, and we can't tell how well you did that. If you were prepared for questions, and none were forthcoming, that would have been a good time for fill material. Of course, from our perspective, you could have nailed it, and your audience left with big smiles on their faces. I have never applied for a post doc, but I imagine the problem would be to contain your 'pitch' to an hour. My advice is always rehearse, rehearse, rehearse (practice). That is not always possible, and you didn't ask for advice. If you made and answered your arguments well, you should be good.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.