Academic | Chalk Talk

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After having secured an interview for an academic position, most are eager to move forward and tackle the rest of the interview process; this includes preparing for the “Chalk Talk.” Generally, trainees are not aware of what happens in a chalk talk, as they rarely get the opportunity to sit in on one. This crucial step in the interview process includes standing before a group of expert researchers in which you must describe your future research goals and showcase your talents as a scientist, using only a white board.

A chalk talk allows you to speak to the search committee about the importance of your scientific research and your future research aims as a faculty member. For more on what search committees are looking for in the chalk talk, see the detailed PDF. Prepare notes for what you want to write and think through how you want to organize your ideas on the board. You will typically have 45-60 minutes, but plan on 30 minutes of speaking with lots of questions along the way.

Structuring your Chalk Talk

  • Start with a blank board. Write out your title, and on the side of the board give a short, bulleted list to outline specific aims for your future research, focusing on your short-term and long-term goals.
    • This process can, and should, be done before the talk begins.
  • Give a few sentences about the overall importance of your research and explain why the search committee should care about your work.
  • Follow this up by writing out your future aims as a faculty member and a few details for each so that the audience will remember them.
    • You should indicate a proposed timeframe for carrying out each aim.
    • Be brisk and confident, so you can quickly move into the content of your aims.
  • Typically, you should plan on presenting at least two, if not three aims. Any less and you might quickly run out of ideas. You might consider beginning your preparation for the chalk talk by focusing on the following two aims:

AIM 1: The title of your first grant. This aim is based directly on your postdoc research or dissertation. Take the time to show why this research is feasible and fundable. Do not show a lot of preliminary data, but focus more on the vision of your research. You can always follow up with specific faculty members later if they wish to know specific details of your data. Summarize by discussing how these results will yield important questions.

AIM 2: The BIG picture. This aim can be related to your first, but it does not need to be. It is your opportunity to let your passion for research show. Discuss what problems you intend to solve through your research. Share what gaps in knowledge and literature you intend to fill.

The most important tip for preparing for your chalk talk: Practice! Practice speaking, writing, and drawing diagrams. Ask your PI and colleagues from your department to sit in on your mock chalk talk. For more chalk talk tips, see the detailed PDF.


Chalk Talk for a Tenure-Track Position: Biomedical Sciences (PDF)
Q&A: How to Give a Chalk Talk
Preparing Your Academic Job Talk