The Academic Job Talk

When you’re invited to an on-campus interview, the job talk presentation most likely will be on your itinerary. Formal presentations may be made to the search committee, to an audience of interested faculty, to students, or to a mixed group of faculty and students. Whatever the audience, the job talk will likely be one of two types: a teaching demonstration or a research presentation, depending on the institution’s mission. You may be asked to teach a simulated lecture for an introductory course or present your dissertation research.On the basis of your presentation, you’ll be evaluated as a scholar, teacher and potential colleague. A dynamic talk is likely to result in a job offer, while a poorly organized, flat or uninspired presentation will almost certainly eliminate you from consideration.

Teaching Demonstrations

First, find out who will be attending the teaching demonstration.Will the audience be actual students?If so, find out what they’ve been studying. Ask for a copy of the syllabus or talk to the instructor.

Will the audience be a combination of faculty members and students?If so, treat them as you would actual class members. Select a demonstration lesson from your teaching experience and, especially if you’re addressing a faculty or mixed audience, briefly place the lesson in context. Then present the lesson as if you were addressing your own students. As a demonstration of your teaching style, you may want to include both didactic and interactive teaching strategies.

  • Plan to use teaching aids as if you were presenting an actual lesson. Have handouts available as needed. You can plan to use technology, e.g., overhead transparencies or a PowerPoint presentation, but be prepared to carry on without them if the equipment should fail.
  • If possible, teach something you’ve already taught so that you’re familiar with the material and can place the lesson in its appropriate context.
  • Stay close to your teaching style; this isn’t the time to try something new.If you’re a dynamic lecturer, then go ahead and lecture.If you facilitate good discussions, then make your presentation interactive.

Research Presentations

The research presentation is used to assess a candidate’s research skills.If you’re asked to present your research, you can draw upon your dissertation. Select a manageable topic from a section of your dissertation rather than attempting to present a thorough discussion of the entire project. Assume that your audience consists of both colleagues and students, and make the presentation accessible to scholars in other disciplines as well as to undergraduates.

  • Use the first 10 minutes of your presentation to position your research in a scholarly context.Explain the importance or significance of the research.Be sure to acknowledge the researcher(s) who began the particular line of research.
  • The next 20-25 minutes should focus on your research.Begin by briefly reviewing the procedures, then move into the Results and Discussion of your research.Present it in chunks; talk about a small block of data, comment on its meaning, then move to the next block.You’ll want to include any conclusions you’ve drawn from the research, and address the limitations. Wrap the presentation up by talking about your future research agenda. Be sure to leave time for questions and answers.
  • Use appropriate technology to present your research, but have a backup plan in the event of equipment or power failure.
  • Don’t read the presentation; however, it may be helpful to have the first and last 2-3 paragraphs written out in full so that you’re sure you explain your research in enough detail that your audience will understand.Use an outline or slides in between. Above all else, don't improvise the presentation.It will show, and you will be judged accordingly.
  • Plan to show how your research will inform your teaching and how your research relates to the discipline and the department you seek to join.

Remember, the job talk is not another defense of your work.You don’t have to prove your competence. Instead, consider it a demonstration of your ability to contribute and collaborate as a potential colleague and as a clear communicator.That’s what your audience is most interested in knowing.

Following Your Presentation

Be sure to allow some time for a question and answer session following your teaching or research talk. In a teaching demonstration, you might devote some time for student questions during the lesson and for follow-up.At the end of a research talk, be prepared to answer questions about your choice of dissertation topic, research methodology, the relevance of your conclusions or your future research agenda.