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Monday, November 14, 2011

More job talk thoughts

The guest post from my colleague Joelle Moreno with tips for giving a non-sucky job talk generated quite a bit of interesting discussion, both here and in some email exchanges within our faculty. Sitting here in the heart of callback season, I wanted to offer a few further observations, questions, clarifications, and additional suggestions.

First, the observation/question: Is unnecessary PowerPoint use in decline? Only two of our speakers have used PowerPoint--and of those, one had photos and proposed statutory text and the other had maps. Everyone else just got up and spoke (needless to say, it has been a pleasure). Are other people seeing the same thing? Has the word gotten out about the uselessness--indeed counter-productivity--of PowerPoint when all you are doing is showing text or bullet points of the talk? Has the word gotten out that reading PowerPoint slides does not make a talk more engaging?

Second, one of Joelle's tips was "Don't Be a Suck up." A good tip that dovetails with a related one: Don't name-drop, either people on the faculty or people in your area. Unfortunately, there is a ridiculously fine line between name-dropping and showing a grasp of the legal literature. And where you fall on that line may vary among faculty members; what is annoying name-dropping to one faculty member is "wow, she knows the literature and is comfortable talking about it" to another. All of which goes to show that applying tips in this process is not as easy as it sounds.

Third, an additional tip:

You must be ready to talk not only about the precise (often narrow) subject of your paper, but also about broad concepts in your area. If you present a paper about the  estate tax, you better be able to answer questions about the tax code and tax law more broadly. "I haven't looked into that" or "I haven't thought about that" is not an acceptable answer if the question is about your field generally. Even if you haven't researched the specific question, you must be familiar enough with it that you can compose a reasonably thoughtful answer on the spot. Again, there are fine distinctions at work. If you are presenting a paper on the jurisdictionality of the ministerial exemption, you shouldn't necessarily have to answer a question about tax law. But anything closer to that is fair game. You must be prepared not only to talk about your paper, but to talk about the broad subject matter in which you are writing and in which you purport to have a scholarly interest.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 14, 2011 at 09:10 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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