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Mark Kalderon

A few observations.

Don't pitch a summary overview of your work. Tends not to be substantive enough, and people want to see your mind at work.

Despite the previous post I think that it is OK to pitch formal work. I mean, some people are formal philosophers and the search committee knows this prior to the interview. But please, again despite the advice from the previous post, don't use powerpoint. And not just because I am a Tuftean powerpoint skeptic (I am). But it really hurts the flow and accessibility of the talk. Much better is to do what was once known as a chalk and talk. Write the formalism as you explain what is going on. If you need an example of this, Kit Fine is a master of this approach. There might be YouTube videos where this is on display. Even nonformally inclined people will for a large part of the talk at least be under the illusion that they are following and will really appreciate it.

Finally, give a talk that you are interested in and not what you think the department might be interested in. They want to see you and not some other character. And you can guess wrong. Moreover, it is more likely that you will perform optimally. I once saw someone who is really good tank their talk by making this mistake.

Guy Crain

Hi Mark,

Can you explain "Tuftean PowerPoint skeptic"?


Mark Kalderon

Edward Tufte is a design theorist specializing in the representation of information. He is famous, or perhaps infamous, for blaming the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in part on the newly introduced use of PowerPoint to share information among the engineers working on the project. FWIW I found his work useful in designing course materials.

another perspective

I work in Europe, where typically audiences, including search committees, speak different language. We generally expect people to do their job talks with powerpoint - it ensures a level of clarity that most often works in candidates' favour.

Bill Vanderburgh

Ideally, present something directly relevant to the AOS in the ad, not a side project on a secondary topic area you are excited about. And practice it in advance.

As to form, content, length, question period, etc., if the department doesn't tell you in advance, ask what they are looking for.

BTW, IMO, unlike a department colloquium, a job talk is not a place to present new ideas that you are still working out. Present something polished, even if you have presented it at a conference before. This means, at a minimum, you should begin writing and practicing a potential job talk right after application season ends, not after you get an invitation to campus.

Leave more time than you think for questions at the end. That's where things get interesting for the audience.

I personally hate "crowd work" (trying to engage the audience in discussion/group work/etc. as the talk goes along), but I don't hold it against candidates (much).

Re: "Chalk and talk". It can work for folks in formal disciplines and in other areas for those for whom it is a natural and well-practiced form. But I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, especially if they don't do it in the classroom. Different subfields of philosophy have different standard ways of presenting (PowerPoint in philosophy of science, reading a full paper from a lectern in history of philosophy, etc.). Do what you are familiar with so that you do it well.

To Guy Crain: Edward Tufte is a guru of the visual display of information (among other things). I use and recommend PowerPoint *if used well*. That includes few words per slide, visual images relevant to the point being made, good color and font design (simple and legible for people with various abilities to see), no clutter, don't read aloud what is already written on the slide. Avoid making what Garr Reynold's calls "slide-uments": slides that try to fulfill the three properly-distinct functions of visual aid, speaker notes, and handout for audience.

Don't Read Your Talks

Let a "non-reading presentation" be a philosophy talk in which someone speaks without reading from a paper. Let a "reading presentation" be a philosophy talk in which someone reads directly from a paper.

A general piece of advice. While a bad non-reading presentation is just as bad as a bad reading presentation, almost all non-reading presentations are better than reading presentations. A good non-reading presentation is at a completely different level of quality compared to a good reading presentation.

Don't read your talks! My partner (not in philosophy) is horrified when I regale them of tales of philosophy conferences in which speaker after speaker puts their head down and reads their presentation. This goes for job talks too, imo.

I have heard many apologia for reading talks. They have all failed except for "I am not 100 percent fluent in *language X*, so I really need to read the talk for fear of the talk becoming ungrammatical." However, I will note that many of my ESL friends in philosophy agree with me.


I disagree about not reading your talks. First, there are different norms in different sub-disciplines of philosophy, so giving this advice is very different for, say, a history of philosophy talk vs. a philosophy of science talk. But, second, a bad non-reading presentation is worse, IMO, than a bad reading presentation. (I’ve seen plenty of both.) And there are ways of making reading presentations engaging and not so that you are just putting your head down and talking. Especially if you think the risk of nervousness is great enough that you would flub a non-reading presentation, I think it can make a lot of sense to do a reading presentation, provided that you practice and make a clear effort to be personable and engaging while reading the paper.

My partner is also not a philosopher and is horrified at some of our practices as well because different fields have different norms and aims. I don’t think that’s a reason to reject them; the reason to reject them (if we should) is that they are worse.

placement person

As a placement director: if you are at risk of flubbing a non-reading presentation, the answer is not to read your presentation. (Yes, I agree with "Don't Read Your Talks".) The answer is to start practicing NOW--yes now--by yourself, followed by later in the fall as many times as possible with others--fellow grad students if you are a grad student, faculty, friends, over zoom, by giving the talk at conferences/workshops--until no matter how nervous you get, the thing is such second nature that it just comes out of you fully formed.

And @Sam, I don't think people being horrified is the reason to reject reading talks--the reason to reject reading talks is that it's part of our job to give good talks, and a huge number of people simply cannot follow read talks, or, at best, are just wasting their time attending them. If you're going to read your talk, you should give all of us the option to instead read it ourselves (which will also save most of us a significant amount of time, since we can read it to ourselves much more quickly than you read it out loud) and then just show up to the Q&A. But now imagine doing this as a job candidate. ("The talk will be optional, here's the paper if you want to read it instead".) It wouldn't go over well, and for good reason. That's because you're being asked to give a talk, not read a paper out loud to people who could just read it themselves.

anonymous prof

Imagine teaching a seminar to some talented students, assigning one of your own papers, and then spending half a class session reading it to them line by line. Not in a million years would you treat your students like that!

Why, then, would you do that to people who have the power to give you a job?

placement person

anonymous prof brings up a good general piece of advice for research job talks: at many places where you will give one, there won't be a separate teaching demo, but even if there is, your job talk is a place where you are modeling at least some of your teaching skills. So put them on display! (Obviously it's not the time for think-pair-share exercises or anything, but one mistake I see people make regularly is trying to show off how smart/clever/knowledgeable they are at the expense of getting everyone in the room to understand and see the value of their topic/questions, arguments, and thesis.

Search Committee Member

Anonymous Prof raises an interesting point. At least in the UK, it is not uncommon for you to ONLY be asked to give a research talk (so you give a research talk + do one interview). This means that the research talk serves both to indicate your research areas/interests/ability, but also as a way to show off your teaching ability. Often you are asked to give a research talk but one that would be accessible to x-year UG students. In such cases, reading a presentation would be a disaster in my view. There would be very little chance that you could show that you could be an engaging lecturer if you read the talk.

More generally, I tend to agree with those that think reading a presentation is not a good idea. I, like others, find read-presentations very hard to engage with. I have seen people manage it better when the talk is online as it is less noticable in some cases that the presenter is reading. But even then, I would say a non-reading presentation is preferable in most cases.


As someone who has done relatively well in the job talks (relative to other parts of my application), all of which have materialized in offers, I'd like to offer two perhaps minor observations: Q&A may be at least as important as the talk (and sometimes lasts longer) and thus should be well-prepared. In some cases, the search committee is appointed by the university and consists of people from various departments, so it's nice to have the talk accessible to some outsiders (who may be a linguist, a political scientist, a physicist, etc).

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