presenting our work

Beth Shuster eoshuster at UCDAVIS.EDU
Wed Feb 21 21:41:11 EST 1996

On 19 Feb 1996 07:10:04 -0800, linden at (Linden Higgins) wrote:

> Do we present our work differently?  Once upon a time, I would have said
>"no", but now I think "yes", at least on a gross, over-generalizing scale.
>It is due to the following, which happened to me:
>I did not get the job.  I was told that although seriously considered,
>there was doubt about whether I knew the "bigger context" of my research,
>or where my next projects would take it.  Now, I know perfectly well where
>my research is going, and its importance.  The woman who told me this also
>confided that she'd never met a male candidate who had problems making sure
>everyone knew exactly what his plans were and why they were important....

  This was clearly a communications problem, but I'm not so sure that it
was as gender specific as suggested by the woman mentioned above.  We've
had a lot of job candidate seminars lately.  The candidate of this set who
completely and utterly failed to put the research in perspective happened
to be male!

  I know that when I gave a practice job seminar (nearly 7 yrs ago now!), I
was pulled up short by the comments of another post-doc in the Department
who worked on a different organism, with more emphasis on different
techniques (biochemistry/cell biology vs molecular genetics).  She told me
(and others seconded) that while my seminar would have probably gone over
fine in Departments where everyone was very conversant in molecular
genetics, I was likely to completely lose most of an audience from the much
more generally constituted dept I was going to interview in.  I had assumed
a certain level of general knowledge (or should that be, general
rememberance?) that just does not pertain when talking to people in more
distant regions of the discipline we call biology.

  I backed up about ten paces, inserted some basic introductory material to
get people oriented and made absolutely sure that I gave a VERY general
overview of the context of my research.  This was at a level that I had
previously considered "too basic" (i.e. DNA - RNA - protein, I was
presenting material on RNA processing) and I also had to try to avoid
insulting those closer to my area.  I also added some very simple-minded
slides to explain techniques essential to understanding my results.  At the
end, after I gave an overview of the "future prospects" of the work, I made
sure to bring the talk full circle and remind them of how all of this
contributed (and would continue to contribute) to the big (basic) picture
that I'd presented at the beginning.  I was told that my seminar was one of
the best & most understandable the Dept had seen!

  Most of the successful job candidates that I have seen since have done
similar things in their seminars.  Another useful strategy (for use
one-on-one) is to point out the ways in which your research interests
overlap, even in a very general way, with those of your interviewer
(obviously, you don't want to stretch too far, or you just look silly).
This augments all of those questions which indicate your interest in their

  I hope this doesn't sound too basic - I've just been continually
surprised by seminar speakers who fail to remember to start by giving the
"big picture".  Perhaps it's because we are encouraged (forced?) to focus
our research interests so narrowly as post-docs.  We need to remember that
not everyone is as immersed in our field as we are.


Beth Shuster
Univ. of California, Davis
eoshuster at

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