Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Lesson of July 10, 1998
The Interview Talk

Many of you are Ph.D. students, and will soon be looking for a job. Often you must present your work to your prospective employer during an interview. Here are some guidelines for your interview talk. They were first formulated by Dr. Gordon Pike, of Sandia National Labs, USA, and then adapted by me.

Audience: Who is your audience? Primarily Ph.D. scientists? Graduate students? Undergraduates? You can't make your talk interesting and accessible to everyone, but you can ensure that each person understands at least part of it. For teaching positions, it is especially important to demonstrate that you can explain your work clearly.

Objectives: The audience will be considering these questions:

General Impressions: In addition to answering these questions, you should be aware that the general impression you leave is important. You want to be seen as a systematic thinker who is relaxed and interested in his/her topic. You want to demonstrate both breadth and depth. By breadth we mean that you should demonstrate that you know how your piece of work fits into the larger technical context and what impact the work will have. By depth we mean that you should show that you know more about the narrow area of your thesis work than anyone in the audience. Of course, this needs to be done delicately, without arrogance. Pick some facet of your work and spend about 10 minutes or so focusing on it in depth.

Questions: There will be time at the end of the talk for a few questions and you need to respond directly and honestly to all of them. In many interviews you will be spending more time with the individuals in the audience so you will have the opportunity to discuss questions at length.

Perspective: Keep in mind that your presentation just sets the tone and gives general impressions. You often are given time for private discussions to learn more about your prospective colleagues and for them to learn about you.

Neutrinos, they are very small,
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons though a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed - you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

-M.A. Ruderman and A.H. Rosenfeld

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Created July 9, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.