How old were you when you gave your firrst talk

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In summary, the author was born in 1957, got a PhD in 1977, and has been giving talks since 1979. He recommends giving talks frequently, and has done so for over 60 years. His most recent presentation was in 2001. He has been invited to speak in Italy and Spain, but has declined because of health reasons. He has participated in professional conferences for over a decade.
  • #1
How old were you when you gave your first talk at a conference?
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  • #2
I got my PhD in 1977 at age 35. I turned down temporary job posibilities at Columbia, UNC and other schools to go to UGA in Georgia, because I had a family and wanted a tenure track job. This was perhaps rash, as I was "buried" there away from centers of research in my field and ahd to struggle to get out and be noticed.

In 1979, at PhD age 2, age 37, I gave my first talk, at an international conference in Angers France, before an international audience. I prepared for weeks. It went well. From that moment on, I had a large number of international connections, invitations, and potential jobs.

I recommend giving talks as often as possible, for the experience and for the exposure. I.e. never turn down an invitatioin to give a talk, and when you go to a conference uninvited, have a talk ready.

For years, everywhere I went, invited or not, I was either asked to speak after arriving, or asked if i wished to speak. Once I entered a room late where talks were being discussed. My name was on the board for some reason unknown to me. Then the moderator said "we have been voting on who we want to hear, you are speaking on Friday." I had to go to my room and quickly prepare a talk since i had violated my rule of always having a talk ready for every conference.

Another time i arrived for a semester long stay at an institute and as I arrived the first day to find my office, an organizer spotted me and said "this is the guy i wanted to see. Will you speak first this semester? We begin Thursday." Again i had to go prepare a talk in a hurry. These quickly prepared talks are not at all ideal.

Since the first one, I have given over 60 talks, the latest in 2001. I have been invited to speak in Italy and Spain twice in the last 6 years, but been obliged to decline for health reasons.

The stimulus of having to give espeically an international or national talk, or les so even a seminar talk, is very energizing. Even when I have given what felt like a mediocre talk on work that was not mature, the stimulation has always led to finishing the work afterward. So the talk always benefited me if not thE audience SO MUCH.

It can be nerve wracking though to have to speak in front of a crowd of experts. But mostly they are very nice.

Basic rules I recall:

prepare thoroughly. Practice actually giving the talk in advance to a live audience, to practice the timing and anticipate problems. this is the most useful thing.

when speaking try to identify some friendly face in the audience to talk to. In general speak to the people in the room instead of reading the talk, or giving a canned speech.

dont be afraid of them. they want to learn from you, give them what you have, and if you can also make it clear and understandable, they will appreciate it.

smile, enjoy yourself.

and quit on time. once however i was too strict about this, and quit before making my main point. my timing was off because they had dawdled about starting. it was a laid back group, and i should have asked if i could have 5 more minutes and ended well.
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  • #3
If one counts student conferences, then I was 22 IIRC and just starting an MS (grad) program. I actually gave two papers.

I made a presentation at my first professional conference when I was about 24 or 25.

I now participate frequently in conferences and seminars, and I have to give several presentations the week after next.

In June, I will be participating in a national conference as a member of the technical program committee.
  • #4
24 and was only 6 months into my phd.

Now I probably attend 1-2 professional conferences a year. Other meetings and workshops whenever I feel the need.
  • #5
My masters talk was at 23, first professional conference talk at 28. I have given at least 10 since not counting job interviews.

One funny thing, we were required to give a conference style talk as part of our overall grade for advanced undergraduate lab (10 minute talk with 4 minute question period), that was at 20.
  • #6
Had to deliver a talk to a audience of undergraduates and professors after taking classical mechanics project unit. That was at age 18, one of the scariest experiences of my life.

Had to give a talk as part of my Summer Vacation Scholarship on Differential Geometry this month, now i am 19.
  • #7
Thanks for all the replies.

I am actually a little scared but very much looking forward to giving my first real talk at an international conference in France in August.

I am 19, a freshmen, and am presenting work which encompasses research from the last 2 years that was in collaboration with a professor I have yet to meet in person. I was originally going to present a poster, but we think an oral presentation will be a better idea considering the amount of work we will be showing.

It is scary, but I am going to prepare as much as possible and talk in front of groups here at school and then over the summer at the group I will be working with, so I should have it under control by then.

Thanks again for the comments, and please continue to share your first experiences.
  • #8
mathwonk said:
I got my PhD in 1977 at age 35.

Hey mathwonk, did you ever find that earning your PhD at a later age was a hindrance to your career? Before I came to school, I spent several years in "industry" (the service industry) and I plan on completing my PhD around age 35. I'm always worried that I will have difficulty finding an academic job since my competitors will be around 5 to 10 years younger than me.
  • #9
not really, the only drawback was i became 65 sooner, and had less time to be a young researcher. but i never really thought about it, and no one else seemed to either.

finding a job is hard no matter what age you are!
  • #10
I don't know if this counts as a conference, but I read a paper at the West Bengal Science Congress when I was about 10 or 12. In hindsight, it was rather poorly researched and seriously lacking in detail.

  • #11
but you presented it. it counts.

and unit circle, there is sometimes a bias expressed against mathematicians over 40.

At age 39 i considered resigning my tenure track job at taking a temporary job at a famous university because of the stimulation there.

but i was warned that turning 40 and then looking for another job might be held against me.

This is kind of a superstition, that mathematifcians are over the hill at 40, not true, but still out there. (Some of my favorite works on my vita were pubished when I was 39, 40, 43, 44, 46, 48, 52, 54, 57, 59, and several over 60.)
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  • #12
It may be a bad generalisation, but it's true that most of the truly great work in Mathematics was done by people under 40. Age tends to stifle creativity.

  • #13
see there is that superstition again. have you considered that riemann, abel, and galois all died before they were 40?

superstition stifles more creativity than age. E.g. even if you yourself are over 40, Ill bet you have another burst or three of creativity in you. Go for it!
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  • #14
I think renown and smugness are far more stifling to creativity than age.
Also, all those boring administrative details that have to be done somehow..
  • #15
Well, if you consider business presentations as a talk. Then I gave my first talk in a Leaders and Entrepreneurs Summit when I was 16.
  • #16
anytime you get up in front of an audience and present something you thought about, and feel responsible for the preparation of, that counts.
  • #17
Some time in my first year of PhD - so 23. Not counting internal talks, ie. ones within the uni I've been at, my currently given just over 30 talks.

19 does seem quite young to be giving a talk at a conference! but like all things, talks get better the more you do so it'll be a good experience :smile:
  • #18
unit_circle said:
... did you ever find that earning your PhD at a later age was a hindrance to your career?

I got mine at 35 also. Never considered an academic career just an industrial. After 6 years, I am making more than my contemporaries who went into academia and they have got 2-3 years left before they get tenure because of the "mandatory post-doc" time they had to spend before getting their first permanent type job. I am vested in my retirement system at work and my 401K is bigger than theirs.

You might say that our careers are not equivalent, but the difference is that they have to teach and I don't. I write for contract propsals and bring in research money just like they do, the big difference is that my friends get all excited when they bring in enough for themselves and a grad student for a year or two, my research contracts pay 4-6 people full-time for 3-4 years and at industrial rates is between 5 and 10 million (overhead, profit and expenses like materials etc are included), if I did that at an academic institution I'd be promoted to full professor with tenure in a week whereas in my line if business you get to keep your job. Our final reports run into the 100's of pages, although the contracting agency owns the results and can publish them if they want, when was the last time you saw a publication run more than 50 pages, only if it was for Reviews of Modern Physics.
  • #19
For me, the most exciting prospect of academia, is the notion that people value your intelligence and knowledge enough to ask you to speak in front of them. Having people sit in on your lectures and seminars is perhaps the part of professorship that I look forward to most. Granted, doing research is equally as impressive, it doesn't have the same mass-appeal. Typically, unless you publish something groundbreaking, only those in your field will review your work, when you give talks and lectures, there is an eccelectic audience listening.
  • #20
still can't stand presenting ...and I've only done class presentations...never a conference.

Mathwonk. approached 65 faster..but doesn't that mean you got to focus on research after 65? I just see my old professors wandering around teh libraries reading.
  • #21
neurocomp2003 said:
Mathwonk. approached 65 faster..but doesn't that mean you got to focus on research after 65? I just see my old professors wandering around teh libraries reading.
No - it just means that after 45, it's pretty much down hill.

If one counts non-technical speaking, then I gave my first talk in front of an audience when I was 9 yrs old.
  • #22
Thanks everyone for you stories and messages.

I just wanted to clarify, I am wondering when everyone gave their first professional talk at an international conference...

Please keep sharing your other stories as they are all fun to hear, but I am curious to hear about your first 'real' talk.
  • #23
geez if its downhill after 45, what about NOW! I am 64.

the point is, I am 64 no matter what. so i might as well enjoy it.

  • #24
Mathwonk, you are my hero dude.

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