A friend of mine applied to a PhD program and luckily they called her for a presentation. They said that the presentation should be a maximum of 10 minutes long and should consist of three slides. These slides should include past experience and research interests, they say.

We are trying to prepare an optimal presentation. We think of,

(1) Presenting a brief CV, including academic background, education etc.

(2) Past research experience, especially during the MSc thesis,

(3) Work experience.

In addition to research experience, we want to emphasize the teaching experience and the experience gained from the courses taken.

However the problem is that research experience and work experience significantly overlap with each other and we are concerned about not using slides optimally.

We would like to hear advice from you about this type of presentations. Or if you know any sources on the web that are specifically for these type of situations, we would be very happy to hear them.

Note that the presentation should be ten minutes long with three slides and should focus on interests & past experience of the individual.

  • I'm confused. Wasn't everything they ask for already included in your friend's original application? If so, the precise content is probably not as important as the clarity of presentation.
    – JeffE
    May 8, 2013 at 1:22

2 Answers 2


I have not been in this situation so my answer below may be at odds. I was required to have a chat with a potential supervisor and then lodge a detailed application. The fact that the supervisor endorsed my topic was a sure indication of acceptance by the university.

It appears that you are being over cautious (and I can understand why - you only get one shot at this!). My advice is to follow the simple rule of presentation i.e. keep it clear, concise and relevant.

So I would suggest the following for your three slides:

  • Slide 1 - Tell them what you want to do and how you will do it (i.e. topic and methods)
  • Slide 2 - Tell them why you want to do it (i.e. gap in knowledge you are addressing)
  • Slide 3 - Tell them how qualified you are to complete it (i.e. your skills and experience)

The contents and presentation skills go hand in hand, so prepare thoroughly. Unless you have a good reason, don't be too defensive of your approach. Give the impression that you are ready.


I also have not been in this situation, but my advice would be to focus on the work done during the MSc--what was the thesis on, why was it interesting, how would you extend it (to research, if it was not a research-based thesis; or to further experiments/work if it involved a significant research component already). If the work experience was related either to what the MSc was on, or to what the PhD will be on, go into that also; otherwise just mention it in passing.

The admissions committee already has all the information they need from the CV about what your friend's background is. What they don't know is how she can think about a research project, and how she comes across in person (in a formal setting like a brief talk). The latter will happen regardless of the choice of topic, so the former is, in my opinion, what to aim for.

Also, your friend should make sure that the presentation is tailored to the appropriate level for the people present! A bit of high-level why-is-this-important is good regardless of level, but if it's a very focused program in the same topic, she should go into more depth than if it's a broad one (e.g. computational neuroscience vs. biology).

Anyway, if I were listening to such a presentation, I would be trying to figure out: is she interested in research? Does she understand it? Is she enthusiastic about it? And, since the near-universal advice is "show, don't tell", I'd be looking not for her to say that she does/is any of these things, but for it to be implicit in the presentation.

Finally, I'm assuming she'll be talking one-on-one with a number of people also. That's probably more important! Stressing overly much about the presentation to the point of e.g. getting inadequate sleep is almost surely the wrong way to go.

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