Friday, August 10, 2012

Faculty Job Talks - More Musing

As I had meant to get to earlier this summer and as always, things just keep slipping by, I wanted to comment a bit more about the job talk. This week I wanted to focus on how one defines their research, namely your research and why we want to hire you. From a higher level perspective, there are two key things that I need to walk away from in your job talk from a research perspective.

Skipping over the fact that one can safely assume that you are giving a good, engaging talk, here are some thoughts from an Engineering / Science perspective:

  • I need to understand where your research stands in the greater scheme of things in your field. Part of that is motivating why your problem is important but if I am not in your area, I need to understand where your work pushes the overall research envelope. Some of the best talks in doing this have used 2-D or 3-D charts (they were viz people but even non-viz people can mimic them), i.e. the two design constraints or issues are scale and security, my work pushes the envelope in scaling well and being secure. It allows us on the committee to get a sense of what sort of a research community you would fit into and give a sense to faculty who might be interested in collaborating where your research might plug / complement their own.
  • I need to understand what you personally did to advance the research. Yes, you may have been part of a team effort but particularly for a place such as ND, we tend not to have huge groups of faculty in your particular area. Hence, I need to know that you can function independently outside of the context of your prior support system. Collaborative efforts are great, but what is your part? What did you uniquely contribute or what insight of yours drove the project? It is a bit of what I would call personal cheerleading but remember, we are hiring you, not your entire team (adviser, co-workers, etc.) to come join our faculty. Trust me, your adviser / co-workers will definitely understand, they would most definitely want you to succeed in finding a position. Don't be overwhelming with braggadacio (that can rub people the wrong way too) but far too many people come in a bit too humble / unassuming. This is very hard for most folks, particularly as the trend is towards larger group and inter-disciplinary projects, but it is sort of a necessary skill to survive in today's academic environment. 
We want to hire you, give us that motivation that seals the deal at the talk as to why *your* research is great. Help me understand what you did and how it is complementary to our department.

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