An Academic Career


The task

It is common, (particularly for lecturing jobs), to be required to present a short synopsis of your research to a mixed audience of academic staff, contract research staff and research students. Alternatively, you may have to present a topic as if to a group of undergraduate students.

Preparing your presentation

It's never safe to assume prior knowledge of your research topic, so start your talk with a short general introduction to the subject area. Follow this with a more focused look at your own research, highlighting collaboration with other researchers. Authenticity is important so be honest about things you tried which may have pushed you off onto unexpected directions. Talk about your results and how these fit within the wider context of the field. End by briefly indicating future directions for your research before inviting the audience to ask questions.

It is important to pitch your talk correctly. If it is too technical or specialised then your audience will lose interest so avoid obscure terminology, references and above all, acronyms. Similarly if you dumb it down too much, they may feel patronised. Your audience may have a good general background but may not be familiar with all of the terminology and methodologies you use.

Only extremely experienced speakers can pull off an unprepared presentation. Don't risk it - this is too important. Practice your presentation beforehand, preferably to colleagues.

Questions and answers

At the end of the talk there is usually 20 minutes or so for the audience to ask questions. If your talk has engaged the audience then this session may be a lively affair.

If you get asked any seemingly controversial questions, or perceive yourself to be on the end of some aggressive questioning - do not panic. The questioner is not trying to undermine you or make you look foolish, but just giving you an opportunity to justify your ideas. Academics love a hearty debate. So keep your cool, take a moment, smile and then make your case. Be honest and enthusiastic about your work, and at the end of the question and answer session thank the audience for coming to hear your talk.