Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Utility of the Job Talk

Plenty of hubbub in the blogosphere about the utility of the job talk. For those of you outside academia, this is a key part of a job candidate's interview visit, where he/she gives a 40ish minute presentation of a research project in front of the department and interested students, followed by Q&A.

My stance is that it provides a lot of information in a short amount of time to a large number of people, so remains useful. The department gets to see how well you can articulate the importance of your research, the future of your research program, how well you understand the methods you've employed, and how well you can answer questions both from people who are experts in your field but also people who have good questions from different angles.

On the flip side, it is the only opportunity for the candidate to see the dynamics of a department interacting. Way back when I was first on the job market, in one interview I quickly discovered that the Q&A part was used by the two departmental factions to bicker with each other. I shed no tears when I didn't get an offer there.

And I disagree with the argument that the job talk is useful primarily because faculty members are too lazy to read the portfolio. One important aspect of the interview process is to recognize that people are not paper. The job talk allows everyone to see together how well a human being articulates their research. Having everyone see it provides a good point of comparison during the discussion about who should get the offer.


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