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Physics Research Job Interview Presentation Advice

  1. Aug 16, 2017 #1
    Hello everyone! I'm soon flying out to several research facilities/companies that have invited me to give presentations, meet with staff, check out the towns etc... I have a few questions about what I should be including in the presentations. I understand that I need to include my past research experience (overview, results, purpose, funding etc...) and that the presentations need to be tailored to the specific position that I have applied for and as such should include the relative experience. However, I still have a couple of questions for the community:

    1. Should I include a slide or two about myself and my education or is this unnecessary? (At this point they all have this information) 2. How far back should I reach into my research history? As in, should I just highlight my most recent work and neglect the projects that I took part in frivolously as a student? 3. Any tips as to what the hiring scientists might be looking for and/or any useful links to what a similar presentation would look like would be extremely helpful and appreciated.

    Thank you very much!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2017 #2

    fresh_42

    Staff: Mentor

    Probably not, if they already have it. Just be prepared to answer questions and eventually have the slides prepared, so you could use them to visually support your answer. This trick (additional slides in a second instance of pp) can also be used for other questions. The danger is to lose too much time if you had to search for them or switch between the instances (Alt+Tab).
    There will be basically two possibilities: they silently listen to your speech, or they will interrupt you multiple times. In the first case, don't describe your childhood, it's boring, i.e. don't go too far back in time unless conclusions about your current and aimed position can directly be drawn from it. The second case is a stress test, which you cannot really prepare for. Have short and precise answers at hand, and don't get distracted by their question(s), resp. remark(s).
    Time and timing is everything. You'll have to find a balance between precision and boredom. Exercise your speech beforehand with a stop watch. You will be surprised how short ten minutes are, especially if there will be questions in between. One way to handle them, is to write them on a whiteboard and answer them afterwards, but this could easily backfire on you. Then there are several tricks of how to influence your audience. The most disturbing person won't be the most important one. The most important one might be rather quiet and only ask one or two good questions. To shorten the distance (a bit, one or two small steps) to the one whom you answer to can be a valid mean to get control of the situation: it demonstrates that you especially answer to a single person, giving him / her importance, or in case of the most likely unavoidable disturber, dominating him / her. Just make sure you won't try to dominate the alpha member(s) of the group. Varying the volume of your voice (a bit) is also an instrument you have to influence the audience. You won't be liked by the entire audience, so don't try to achieve it. There are too many unknowns which you cannot control. This brings me to my last advice: try to find out the best you can about your audience, the infrastructure available, and try to be flexible. You cannot be prepared on all possible circumstances, but you can prepare your reactions to them. And as always: self-esteem (not arrogance) is important.
     
  4. Aug 16, 2017 #3

    Choppy

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    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Yes. When I've been on hiring committees in the past and we've invited candidates to give presentations, the audience is not exclusively the hiring committee. Often people who will be working with the candidate in one form or another will come and they will want to know about the candidate as a person. I wouldn't spend a lot of time on this, but a slide or two is fine. I'd avoid just repeating what's on your CV, and stretch out to some of the more interesting points about yourself. As an example, I remember one candidate used his first ~ 3 slides telling us about the country he grew up in, some of the light-hearted struggles he had as a kid, and where he went to school. He started out by saying that we all knew the technical details about him be he wanted us to get to know him as a person and I think we all appreciated that. For the record, he got the job.

    You can really reach back as far as you want, so long as it's relevant to the position. That said, avoid detailing every little thing. If you're going back to something from several years back, it can be helpful to start off with why you're doing it. "Now this is an example of a project I worked on in my second year as an undergraduate student. It's a little dated, but this this where I first learned how to code in python and I understand that this job involves some python coding. Here's what was neat about this project..."

    What they're lookin for depends a lot on the position itself. Generally speaking a presentation is often used as a means of assessing your communication skills. They want to know if you can effectively communicate the technical information to their client base or to other people in the organization. It's also a way of assigning you a project without assigning you a project. If you come in with a presentation that's sharp and polished, that suggests that they can expect similar results from anything they need you to do, and vice versa.
     
  5. Aug 16, 2017 #4
    Oh wow I'm extremely glad I posted on here! Thank you so much fresh_42 and Choppy for the advice.

    If you're still around, I noticed that you guys conflicted on this question:
    Your advice there sounds good Choppy, especially since that guy got the job but I can't imagine that my upbringing/life story is riveting enough to warrant 3 slides. I think maybe I'll just casually mention a few things before I begin in on the talk or possibly put together one slide.

    In terms of the most important person in the room, I'm going to try and pretend like there won't be big clashing ego's to worry about. I realize that this is probably naive but my style is pretty all over the place while I'm talking and I like to pause for water etc.. I'm sure that I won't be liked by the entire audience but I won't really be thinking about politics while I'm up there.

    Regarding points that you both touched on - I definitely plan on having super sharp presentations and I'm going to include some animations because they have worked well for me in the past (in less intense presentations). Finally, I was considering handing out printed outlines for a couple of the projects that I plan on talking about - is that something that they would appreciate or is it kind of overkill?
     
  6. Aug 16, 2017 #5

    fresh_42

    Staff: Mentor

    The basic difficulty is the same as here with its partly conflicting advice. As long as you don't know the audience, it is hard to tell anything definitely. I always belonged to the more bored type of audience and regarded such meetings as a waste of time. The reason is: the actual choice had either already been made, or depended on factors I couldn't take influence on. So as important it might be from your point of view, as unimportant it might be to some in your audience. A situation at a university might also differ quite a lot from one, where you apply for a job. You may not automatically assume that everybody in the audience is a patient person to whom it is a welcomed opportunity to have a break from the daily treadmill; the busy manager is also a likely possibility. So length and depth of your presentation should take this into account. Believe me, it's rather embarrassing if questions (to fasten the presentation) are regularly answered by slides a few numbers ahead. It makes you appear inefficient.

    In the end, all that really matters for jobs is, whether you fit to the existing staff, and only a few of them will actually be present. This question is normally answered within the first five to ten minutes. The rest is just to make sure, the feeling is right.

    In a scientific environment things change, because other parts play a far more important role: Will you add scientific reputation? Do you have connections which can fund projects? What is technically required? And so on.
     
  7. Aug 16, 2017 #6
    That makes sense - I think I've got a pretty good feeling about all of this now. Thanks again for the input!
    I will absolutely take this to heart. That would be a nightmare situation.
     
  8. Aug 16, 2017 #7

    Choppy

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    Another option, if you want to "read the room" before talking about anything personal is to leave it for the end. You can have an extra slide at the end with a picture of you doing something you enjoy and talk about that if it seems that your audience is warm to it. If not, just leave your concluding slide up.
     
  9. Aug 16, 2017 #8
    That actually sounds like the way to go - also helps avoid an awkward ending if it should come to that.
     
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