A recent graduate of our department has a 1-year teaching job at a school a couple hours drive from here. He has a job interview coming up for a tenure-track faculty position -- his first ever interview -- and I asked him if he wanted to come back to the department here and practice. He was very enthusiastic about this idea, and came over today. He wasn't my PhD student, but I was on his committee and was very involved in part of his thesis research. Also, his advisor is an administrator, and is rather detached from the department. Despite not interacting much with his advisor or even having much research support, he did well in his thesis research because he was so independent and motivated. He hung out with my research group, so he wasn't totally isolated. Neverthless, I was concerned that he had missed out on some of the advising that you get when your advisor is available to talk to and interact with more closely.
So I invited him to come over and he gave his practice talk today, and it wasn't so great. He is a very good speaker -- he speaks clearly and well, he intersperses clever analogies in with the science, and the images he uses in his talk are good (not too much text). But the coolness of the research did not come through at all. He breezed through first order things and spent a lot of time -- a lot of time -- on technical details of the analyses. I said some nice things about his practice talk, but then I basically ripped it apart and suggested some ways for how he could grab the audience at the beginning of the talk, keep them with him through the main data parts of the talk, then wrap it all up nicely at the end. He still has plenty of time to rethink the talk and graphics. The research is great -- it's all in the packaging at this stage. I could clearly see how it could be turned into a great talk with a bit of work. I also tried to ask him questions that I thought he would be asked about his research, and some of them he was unprepared for, but will work on between now and the big day.
I think it was good that he did this practice, but I also think he was kind of stunned by how critical I was. As I left the room, I had a sinking feeling that I'd just undermined his confidence.
Another member of the research group was there as well, and I asked her later if she felt I'd helped him or depressed him. She said "both". I am sure she is right, so I sent a follow-up email with some confidence boosting (but sincere) compliments about the research and the talk. I hope that by the time he has the actual interview, he'll have pulled it all together and the stars will align and he'll get the job.
8 months ago