Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A grading rubric for SLAC-oriented job talks

As I was sitting through job talks for several job searches in a row, and as I was writing my responses to these job talks, I realized that I was gradually converging on a rubric.

You know, in the very beginning, during the first talk, you just notice something that you like here and there, or something that you don't like. But at some point you start comparing candidates to each other, even if you don't really want to. Alice did something cool, and Bob did as well, but Caitlin did not. A point off from Caitlin! She was good in this other thing however, which Bob totally skipped. Extra point to Caitlin for that. After about 10 candidates I ended up looking for some specific clues: first question to the crowd, first use of humor, and so on. I developed a grading rubric.

Of course it is very much my personal opinion on what is good and what is bad, and what counts, and what does not. Also I guess in real life there would be weights attached to each of these points, and these weights would be very different for different people. Yet let me share my version with you. Maybe you'll find it interesting.

A grading rubric for SLAC-oriented job talks:

Each statement is either true (one point), or not true (no points). In some cases it is possible to get half a point (if there was an attempt, but it was not quite successful).

  • The talk is not pitched too high (ideally it should speak to 2-3 year undergrads)
  • The talk is not pitched too low (contains actual details, data, conclusions)
  • Starts from the beginning (good introduction, all special terms are introduced before they are used in the talk, and introduced well)
  • The motivation for the research is clear
  • Demonstrates the breadth of research interests (models, approaches, questions) - important for a small college
  • Advertises past work with undergraduates
  • Hints at future projects with undergraduates and makes them sound fun, meaningful, and possible
  • Good visuals
  • Makes the talk uniquely specific for our institution (alludes to some of our realities, be it campus location, some of the faculty, our history, or anything else)
  • Uses humor successfully
  • Asks questions to the students (full point if they are meaningful and if they are answered)
  • Invites questions from the students (full point if students ask questions)
  • Connects to other areas of science
  • Connects to topics outside of science (society, arts, philosophy etc.)
  • Helps listeners to summarize one message before transitioning to the next one
  • Uses emotion to communicate science; marks statements as emotionally charged (explains what is good and what is bad, what data we are happy to see, what data is sad or confusing, etc.)
  • Good language
  • Shares a bit of their personal story (shows the human side)
  • Feels more excited towards the end than in the beginning (it is my personal theory that good teachers accelerate through the talk as they are carried away by love to their subject)
  • Answers after-talk questions nicely
You sum all points up, and thus identify the best candidate =)

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