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ECE Job Talks

A successful researcher and academic should be able to communicate effectively to fellow researchers at conferences, to faculty members, and to the public at large. Communicating well in an academic setting depends not only on following the basic rules that govern all good communication but also on adhering to the particular norms of academic genres.

The job talk is the most important aspect of your academic career search. Your job talk may be your first and only impression that many of the faculty will have of you. By the conclusion of your talk, you need to have engaged the faculty in the audience so they are excited about your research, inspired by your future research vision, and energized by watching your performance that they will be proud to call you a colleague. In short, you need to show solid research, a compelling future research vision, and that you are a charismatic individual.

Jobtalk@eecs provides an opportunity for a prospective interviewee to practice their research presentation to a broad community of students, post-docs and faculty in EECS. All faculty, post-docs, and students can drop into the scheduled talk and provide feedback, support and encouragement. This helps the prospective interviewee by giving them access to a broader ECE-wide audience that is more representative of the audience in an on-site interview than their own research group. Remember the point of your talk is to convince people beyond those in your research area of your expertise.

Wanting our students and post-docs to be as successful and prepared as possible for their future careers, these talks will assist the interviewee in preparing and improving their own research presentation skills as they navigate their academic careers here at UM and beyond. 

jobtalk@eecs.umich.edu is a mailing list which includes faculty, research scientists, post-docs and post-candidacy students within ECE that can be used to advertise practice job talks by students and postdocs. 

Please work with your area support staff to schedule your job talk and then use the jobtalk@eecs.umich.edu to advertise your job talk to the ECE community. 

Hints for a Successful Job Talk 

While these tips may seem obvious, much can be forgotten during the job talk if you haven’t consciously given it some thought.

  • The talk:
    • Manage your time – ask how long the talk is expected to be, and stick with that timeframe. Generally, aim for no more than 45 minutes uninterrupted time regardless.
      • 35 minutes should be spent on past research
      • 10 minutes should be spent on your future 
      • 15-20 minutes for questions should remain for questions
    • Past Research – Communicate your arguments and evidence – why your problem is interesting, why it is hard, and how you have solved it – be sure these are your contributions.
    • Persuade your audience that they are true
    • Future Research – make it compelling
    • Describe how you would fit into the department – integrate this into your talk
    • Be interesting and entertaining but be authentic.
    • Remember the point of your talk is to convince people NOT in your research area of your expertise. Plan to have something that engages everyone.
    • Your job talk is a live audition for yourself, not for your prior research.
    • Remember it isn’t so much what you say it is how you say it. The technical content of your job talk serves as a mechanism for conveying your intellectual personality.
    • Don’t talk at your audience, connect with them. Don’t speak like you are being judged during your oral exam, speak with enthusiasm
    • Don’t read or rely too heavily on your notes.
colored circuit board in form of human brain isolated on black
  • The accompanying presentation:
    • Simplicity is best when it comes to PowerPoint slides. 
    • Don’t overdo graphics, animations, clip art, background shading/coloring, fancy slide title or borders, etc. 
    • Stick with easy to read font (no smaller than 30 point) and non-distracting colors
    • Use outlines, images, and charts – make your visuals effective
    • Don’t just read from your slides – they are to enhance your talk not give your talk
    • Use your slides are for emphasis – what do you want your audience to remember
    • Make supplementary slides which can be used for further clarification should a detailed question arise
    • Avoid the laser pointer! (they’re often more distracting than helpful)
  • Your mouth is moving, but what is your body conveying and doing?
    • Seem excited, dynamic, and interested in your own research 
    • Use positive body language
    • Use appropriate gestures – open and confident
    • Move slightly – don’t be stiff, but don’t pace like a caged animal either
    • Speak loudly
    • Vary the pitch of your voice
    • Smile
    • Talk to the audience not to your computer, notes, or screen.
    • Make eye contact with your audience
  • Pay attention to questions you get during your job talks 
    • Don’t interrupt the person asking the question
    • Ask for clarification if you do not understand the question
    • Don’t look annoyed, offended, or nervous
    • Don’t make the person asking the question feel stupid – there are no stupid questions
    • Ensure your answer is respectful
    • Use the questions to improve your talk making minor adjustments each time it is given. Don’t make major adjustments each time, that will likely make the job talk worse.
    • Remember how you handle yourself when asked questions demonstrates how you think on your feet as well as how you interact with others
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare!
    • Give multiple job talks
    • Listen to other’s job talks, it helps you with your own
    • Watch other excellent presenters – could be a Ted Talk, your favorite professor, or a speaker on campus – emulate them

Examples

U-M ECE Prof. Herbert Winful gave talks about the history of nonlinear optics for Saturday Morning Physics (SMP). SMP attracts a wide audience of all ages and backgrounds, and the talk must be interesting, engaging, and appropriate for those with little background in science while also educational for those with a background in science.
Legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle shares astonishing images of the ocean — and shocking stats about its rapid decline — as she makes her TED Prize wish: that we will join her in protecting the vital blue heart of the planet.
Bill Nye, otherwise known as The Science Guy, inherited his father’s fascination with sundials. And so he campaigned to have sundials aboard the Spirit and Opportunity Mars exploration rovers. A look at how a small device reveals big implications as to our place in space.