This winter I will be traveling around a bit to give research talks at other universities. I have 4 talks coming up in the next month or so, and have just been checking out these universities' webpages to see what talk titles I gave months ago when I agreed to do these.
I like giving talks about my research, and I like visiting other universities and meeting new people. The most difficult part for me (not counting the random things like flight delays and the occasional unpleasant person one encounters), is The Introduction part of my talk. I don't mean the part when I introduce my topic, I mean the part when someone introduces ME and relates my academic life story to the audience.
There are many flavors of these introductions, depending on the whims of the introducer: if they know me or not, if they are comfortable speaking or not, if they are prepared or not, if they talk to me about the introduction before the talk or not, and so on. These are the main types, from shortest to most epic:
1. the terse introduction: Professor X is from the University of Y and she is going to give a talk about TITLE. [I am fine with this type of introduction]
2. the slightly longer introduction, with information gleaned at random from my CV or faculty webpage: Professor X got her Ph.D. from University Z and is now at the University of Y (some mention my previous faculty position at University W and some mention dates). [I am fine with this introduction as well as long as it is fairly short]
3. the even longer introduction by someone who has delved into my webpages at length, has my CV, and/or knows me: Professor X was an undergraduate at A College, got her Ph.D. from University Z, was a postdoc at University M, a visiting professor at B College, and Assistant Professor at University W, before finally moving to the University of Y, where she is now a Professor. She works on PHYSICAL SCIENCE TOPICS, and is here today to talk to us about BLAH BLAH BLAH. [This is not my preferred introduction -- it goes on for a long time if all of my academic historical sites are mentioned + other info, and I don't know where or how to look -- bored? interested? humble? bemused? The one good thing about these long intros is that you sometimes discover connections with some people in the audience and this can generate interesting conversations later.]
4. the Epic Introduction including all the above plus mention of various research and teaching awards and positions in professional organizations, journal editor positions, and mention of the date of every step in my academic career, and a statement to the effect that I am impressive. [I find these introductions painful; all that information can't possibly be interesting, and saying that I am impressive right before a talk raises expectations perhaps unreasonably high that my talk will BLOW EVERYONE AWAY as opposed to being merely interesting and/or cool.]
My ideal introduction, which seldom happens unless the introducer specifically asks me what I want said, is a rapid list of my career path. I think that this can be useful information for students and postdocs to see how someone got from point A to point B in their career. If the introducer asks me what awards I'd like mentioned, the only one I typically list is my NSF CAREER award, as this is an award people have typically heard of.
The most interesting introduction I ever had was years ago (early in my career) when the introducer told the audience that I was perhaps best known for having killed my advisor. This information seemed to stun the audience, and it stunned me as well, in part because my advisor was alive, and is in fact still alive. The introducer was referring to the fact that one of my committee members, an angry and bitter old man who disagreed with me (and most other people on the planet) about just about everything, died soon after I gave a talk on the major findings of my preliminary research. He definitely became very enraged during my talk (and was not shy about showing his feelings), but his death 3 weeks later was from cancer. In any case, if given a choice, I prefer not to be accused of murder when being introduced for a talk, even if it does get the audience's attention.
2 months ago