I was recently invited for an interview, and they asked me to prepare two separate job talks. One is about my current and past research. Easy. The second is a 45 minute talk about what I plan to do over the next 5-10 years. In previous job talks I always saved a few minutes at the end to describe my next studies, based on my current findings, and how these studies will incorporate the students at the university. These future plans will take 2, maybe 3 years to complete, not 5-10 years. As soon as I try to expand on these studies I end up making plans that sound like, "if my hypothesis is supported then the next study would be this… and if the second hypothesis is supported then the third study would be this…" I am not satisfied by this, because all it would take is one person to ask what happens if the studies don't turn out as expected. The alternative is to propose a broad research strategy, but I feel like without specific ideas the committee will view my future plans as lacking focus. Anyone have any advice or experience on how best to approach a future oriented job talk?
Date: 13 Nov 2014 20:49
Number of posts: 3
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What you are describing is sometimes called a 'chalk talk'… more free form, 100% future oriented, sometimes contentious. I've seen these with no slides i.e. on the chalk board. I've seen several people crash and burn giving these types of talks. It's basically a demonstration that if given the keys to the car (your lab) you will know how to drive and where you drive to is a place people will want to visit. Even for the best candidates on paper, this can be very very challenging, as we are often trained to think one experiment down the line. You must articulate/defend and get people excited about the research you will be conducting if you get the job. If the standard job talk is like a review article, then the chalk talk is more of a grant application.
I think the 5-10 year horizon can be best approached by posing the big-picture questions underlying your research, then move to broad research strategy and ultimately down to specific examples of experiments/paradigms that you will be employing, what might the data may look like and how they would inform the big picture.
What excites you about your research? Articulate your vision. How will you shape the field? Research programs aren't built at the single study level, they are build by a sustained coherent direction of work. How will your lab's research advance the field over the next decade.
The advice I received was to put up one or two slides and then talk about what you are passionate about. Just prepare for some off the wall questions and try to keep the discussion focused where you are most confortable. The audience can and will ask you all kinds of ridiculous questions.