Postdoc Programs Office Launches Interview Support Program

With job interviews approaching, the Postdoctoral Programs Office is offering support to postdoctoral fellows who face the daunting task of preparing for two critical challenges — the “job talk” and the “chalk talk.”

The “job talk,” a formal presentation supplemented by PowerPoint slides or other visual aids, gives job candidates the opportunity to describe their research accomplishments over the years. In the less formal “chalk talk,” candidates discuss their future research plans and the specific aims of their first NIH grant application with the job search committee. Under the leadership of Wasif N. Khan, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology and Director of Postdoctoral Programs, the University of Miami’s Postdoctoral Programs Office has initiated a job talk/chalk talk interview support program to help postdocs prepare both integral components of the interview process.

Maitreyi Das, Ph.D., a postdoc in the lab of Fulvia Verde, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology and cell biology, and Rowshanak Hashemiyoon, Ph.D., a postdoc in the lab of Justin Sanchez, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering, attest to the immeasurable value of the program, which includes input from a panel of UM faculty, including experts and non-experts in the postdoc’s research field.

For their talks, Das and Hashemiyoon first participated in a one-on-one session with Khan, who provided tips and strategies for delivering a clear and captivating message for a diverse audience that may not be familiar with the research field in question. In particular, Khan emphasized the importance of confidence during the interview process.

“There is a lot of angst and stress associated with job interviews,” Khan acknowledged. “You can reduce the stress and gain authentic confidence by realizing that getting an interview is an accomplishment in itself and already signals that you are an attractive candidate.”

Hashemiyoon called the opportunity offered by Khan and the program “a gold mine.”

“Part of the reason the UM program is highly effective is availability,” said Hashemiyoon. “This is a great program through which faculty members make themselves available and accessible.”

After their individual one-on-one sessions, Das and Hashemiyoon created slides, which were reviewed by Verde and Sanchez, who lent their scientific expertise and helped refine the details of their presentations.

The pair also participated in a practice talk, organized by Khan, which included all of their panel members. According to Das, the diversity of the audience was key as it mirrored the scenario she would likely encounter in a real interview.

“This experience allowed me to self-evaluate my ability to convey the right message to an audience largely unfamiliar with my work,” Das said.

“If you articulate well and your research plan describes how your work will advance your field of research without going into excruciating methodological details, you have matured into faculty,” Khan said.

Khan recommends that presentations not exceed 45 minutes and that the chalk talk research plan reflect the candidate’s understanding of the “big picture” and potential to secure extramural funding.

After receiving feedback from the panel, Das and Hashemiyoon refined their presentations and practiced their talks again.

“Preparation for a job talk is totally different from preparing for regular seminar presentations and departmental talks, so I’m glad I had a very knowledgeable and helpful group of faculty members to guide me,” Das said. “The faculty at UM truly is committed to the success of their postdocs.”

Hashemiyoon was impressed by the undivided attention of faculty. “Drs. Khan, Richard Bookman, and Coleen Atkins spent hours helping me prepare for my practice talk and hours teaching me on the spot,” Hashemiyoon said. “These are the best people to have in academia. They raise the University to a whole new caliber.”

Das recently accepted a tenure-track position as assistant professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and credits Dr. Khan and the other faculty members who participated in the job talk program for her success.

Hashemiyoon also experienced tangible results at a recent job talk where her feedback was “amazing.”

“Our goal is to provide UM postdoctoral fellows a competitive edge in the fierce job market, help them get the best jobs they can and become successful and represent UM well,” Khan said.

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