do you have a 30 second elevator talk about your research?

I attended an interesting talk at the AAAS Meeting about science cafes (Link) organized by NOVA on PBS. Their science cafes are groups that meet once per month in a cafe or casual setting, where a scientific expert on an interesting topic has a conversation about their research with whomever wants to attend. The science cafes are open to the public and appeal to scientists as well as those who may be intimidated by coming to a research seminar at a university. has some tips for their speakers (Link), since speaking at a science cafe is not like giving a seminar or lecture. It’s all about creating a science with the public.

Their tips:

1. Introduce yourself and why you got interested in your research. Tell a story and maybe a funny anecdote.

2. Talk about your research using no jargon for a max of 10 minutes. No slides! You can still have visuals, such as pictures on a tablet.

They stressed that visual hooks can be very powerful. Powerful visuals can motivate the problem and be produced by someone other than you. They recommended props, such as microbes that can be passed around. In OR, we could pass around a polytope or a picture of an optimal TSP route.

3. The last 40-50 minutes are for Q&A and dialog.

This advice is really good for some settings, but it’s not something that you should do in a conference talk or seminar, which is why I am putting the advice in a blog post. There is a difference between talking to your colleagues and talking to your dean or an NSF program officer while in an elevator or while waiting in line for coffee. You have to be good at both.

Part of being successful is having a good 30 second “elevator talk” about your work that outlines:

– what you are working on
– why it’s important
– what we will be able to do differently if you are successful

I tell PhD students that they should be able to explain their dissertation contributions to me in a 30 second elevator speech at their defense. It’s really hard to put your dissertation into a 3o second box after you put all your blood, sweat, and tears in it. But this skill will be invaluable on the job search and afterward.

For tips on 30 second elevator speech visit NOVA’s secret life of scientists and engineers.

Do you have a 30 second elevator talk?

3 responses to “do you have a 30 second elevator talk about your research?

  • matforddavid

    Our department used to offer final year projects for undergraduates which were optional. One of the reasons for encouraging students to take up such a project (whether it was a practical problem with real data or a desk-based study in depth of a topic) was that such a project would make them stand out at interviews. If they could talk about the project clearly and concisely and answer the job interviewer’s questions, their interview would be more memorable than that of a student whose final year had been entirely lecture-based. We didn’t say “sum up your project in 30 seconds” but the intention was that the students could convey their work (and enthusiasm) to a stranger. One of my project students came back having been offered a job on the basis of her description of a part of the project; she had talked about how she had managed the data collection; the two interviewers looked at each other in a startled way, and one said “We had a similar problem; I think that your method was at least as accurate as ours”.

  • Tallys Yunes

    This is a great idea. There should be a NOVA-style collection of 30-second videos featuring people from the O.R. community. Maybe INFORMS can do something like this. People submit the “text” of the 30-second speech and the best ones get picked to be transformed into well-produced videos (ideally over a wide range of topics). The video-recording could take place in a room at an INFORMS meeting so that the setup is done only once and speakers rotate in and out.

  • Science Pub RVA

    Cheers from Richmond’s science cafe!

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