Thursday, March 17, 2011

Impromptu Invited Talk

Imagine this general scenario:

You are at (or about to go to) a conference or workshop or similar, and one of the organizers tells you that a slot has unexpectedly opened up for someone to give a talk. S/he invites you to give this talk, and you do.

The question (from a reader):

Can you list this as an invited talk on your CV?

I have given a couple of these impromptu invited talks, and I have not listed them on my CV. But then, I am old and don't need to document everything like early-career faculty need to do.

So I asked myself: If it mattered more to me, would I include such a talk on my CV, and if so, how would I indicate it? Would I flag it as an invited talk? Would I specify somehow that it was an informal invited talk?

And I had no obvious answer for myself, hence this post to ask readers what they have done, if anything, about such situations.

When I was talking to myself about this (silently, in this particular case), I considered the pros and cons of listing informal invited talks on a CV, and came up with this:


Even if the invitation was of the last-minute sort, it means that someone thought you had something interesting to say, and therefore listing the talk on your CV recognizes this fact.

You gave the talk. You should get some kind of documented credit for it.

For an early-career academic, invited talks are important for showing that you are respected and visible in your field. Of course, you may become even more visible and respected by giving such a talk, and perhaps that is 'credit' enough, but it can also be important to have such talks listed on a CV (because most people who review your CV will not have been at your talk).


It's a bit misleading to list an informal invite as if it were a formal invitation. A cynical person might interpret an impromptu invite as "They couldn't get the person they really wanted, so, out of desperation, they got someone else to fill the time."

If you simply list an informal invited talk on your CV with no further explanation and if someone took the time to search the relevant conference program and saw that you were not listed as giving an official invited talk, that could look bad. But I can't think of a good way to designate informal invites on a CV.

If you forced me to choose, I am leaning towards leaving informal invited talks off the CV and being content with the cosmic credit related to having been invited (even at the last minute) and having the opportunity to speak about your work.

If you think that the person who invited you is a fan of your work, that might be a good person to keep in mind for future external letter-writing (e.g., at tenure evaluation time). Then that person might describe what happened and mention the incident as an example of the esteem in which you are held. That's all quite hypothetical and less concrete than listing something on a CV, but it's nevertheless potentially more important (and accurate).

This all might seem like a detail, and some might say: If you have to worry about this level of trivia on your CV, you're probably in trouble.. but I disagree. CVs are scrutinized at various important stages of a faculty member's career. Many times, I have been one of the scrutinizers, and I know how important it is that CVs are complete, accurate, and unambiguous in their presentation of the essential elements of a professor's work.


Anne said...

I think it would depend on a couple things. First, were the other speakers in the session invited? If so, then it's easier to justify considering your own talk "invited". If you're filling in for a standard session talk then it would be more of a stretch.

Second, will the inviter back you up if you call it an invited talk? In other words, if you ask them, "Hey, can I consider this an invited talk?" and they say yes, you're set. If you don't feel comfortable asking the question in the first place, that might be a sign you're on shaky ground. But given the advantages of listing invited talks on a CV, it's probably a question worth asking.

Anonymous said...

What about talks given not at conferences, but in as seminar talks at other institutions? As a grad student, I have given several talks while visiting other institutions (actually it was more or less the same talk several times, slightly adapted to different audiences...). Some of these talks were part of a more-or-less formal seminar series, and some were more informal talks to a select invited group. I assume a talk in a formal seminar series can be listed on a CV, but where do you draw the line? Can informal talks be listed? Does it depend on the size of the audience, whether there is a department-wide announcement, or something else? Is there a good way to appropriately distinguish informal talks from talks in a seminar series?

As a grad student approaching graduation and a job search, the fact that I was asked to give these talks at external institutions seems potentially relevant for my CV -- after all, not all students do this (at least not in my department), and it is a sign that people at other institutions are interested in my research, but it is not the same as a conference talk (invited or not) and I am unsure of whether/how to list such talks on my CV.

Anonymous said...

How about when you are a grad student, and your PI is asked to give an invited talk on your work, but s/he can't or doesn't want to go and sends you instead? It's still a major talk, it's your work, but you weren't specifically the person invited?

EliRabett said...

This matters?

Anonymous said...

There is no one right answer as to whether or not this counts.

It depends on what is typically done in that persons field. Across all of academia there are a variety of ways to determine what counts as scholarly activity, and thus should be on your CV. My hummanities friends wonder why I don't have a book, economist wonder why I submit papers to only one journal, neurosciensts wonder why the PI isn't last author, and engineers wonder why I don't go to more conferences.

The issue here is to subscribe to the moors of your field, so in hiring or tenure committee, no one feels your CV is confusing or misrepresentative.

Anonymous said...

How exactly do you define an invited talk? I would have thought that if you were invited to speak, then it is an invited talk.

What is a talk when you submit an abstract but are selected to speak? How different is that from one where you lobbied the conference organizers for the opportunity to speak?

How about a talk where your department sends out a list of available speakers, the speaking university sends back the sub-list they are interested in, and you agree (or not) to go?

It's common practice for early career faculty to write to colleagues and ask to speak at their universities. If they do, is that invited?

Basically, it would never have occurred to me that the talk you describe would be anything but an invited talk. But maybe I fundamentally do not understand some important distinctions that I really ought to.

I fudge it on my CV by listing "seminars and invited presentations" as one section.

GMP said...

In my field, invited talks at conferences are always longer than contributed talks (by at least 10-15 min); so if you are invited to fill one of the long slots, I'd say that counts as invited even if the invitation was impromptu. (Email invites count, why not?) If you are just filling a contributed talk slot I would not count that as invited.

To Anon at 9:26 who asked whether to count talks where the invitation had been made to a senior scientist, but a junior one (student or postdoc) went on to give it: as a student/postdoc, I would definitely put such a talk on my CV. I guess a good question would be whether the senior scientist should still put it on theirs if they didn't end up giving it; I would say not.

Anonymous said...

It's a (very) competitive world, especially for young researchers. I say make your CV look as good as (honestly) possible. If you were invited to talk, list it as an invited talk. It doesn't matter that you were a "runner up" invitee -- you got the invite and gave the talk.

To anon at 7:43. I'm also a grad student and have given talks at other institutions. Of course you can (and should) put them all on your CV. I indicate on the CV the seminar series name or if it's less formal the group to which I presented. Example:

2010 SciLunch Seminar, Department of Awesome Science, University of Great Science. "Cat on a compass: magnetic sensing in felines"

2011 Subdiscipline Group, Science Department, Science State University. "The direction cats sit when staring out into space."

Alex said...

It doesn't matter that you were a "runner up" invitee -- you got the invite and gave the talk.

Yeah, so you were considered one of the top 5 people in the subfield instead of the top 4.

MathTT said...

Perhaps it's the difference in fields described earlier, but I don't really anguish over talks and how they're classified.

We're in the midst of hiring a few positions in my dept, and I all but skip over the "invited talks" section on everyone's CV. I look at publications, read some of the research, read the letters. I assume that we all give talks in other depts and at conferences and such. And no one at my level has been invited to give a keynote at one of the big conferences, so there's not much there to be impressed by.

I wonder if, based on FSP's comments, I should spend more time on this section of my own CV... tenure review is coming up soon.

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 9:26 - I was in this situation as a postdoc and did NOT list the talk on my CV. In my case, my PI agreed to give the talk initially, but then got sick and was unable to go. He got permission from the Meeting Organizers to have me substitute for him, with about 1-2 weeks notice. One reason I would absolutely NOT list talk on my CV was that this was a small, focused meeting, and the only talks that were given were given by Tenured Professors at Big Famous Ivy League-type schools. It would be ridiculous for me to think I was in the same league as these folks (although my PI was) - there is no way they would have invited *me* to speak, but I was an acceptable last-minute substitute to cover the same topic.

So I guess it depends on some other factors, like (a) did the PI suggest you as an alternate speaker initially and you were then invited, or were you a last-minute sub? (b) were there other post-docs or students presenting at the same meeting? In my case, all of the other talks were by Famous PI's who ran Famous Labs doing Famous Things, and it would have looked rather silly if I had pretended I thought I belonged in that group.

mathgirl said...

To anon 7:43: of course you can/should list those talks.

You can separate talks in your CV under headings such as "invited conference talks", "invited seminar talks", "contributed talks", etc. Some granting agencies ask you to do this anyways.

Lora said...

I'd be worried that someone who was at the talk/conference would see it on my CV and know that it was a last minute thing, and then think to themselves, "that's wierd, why would she list it as 'invited'?" and then tell all his/her collegues about it. I think it would look bad. Unless you have NO other invited talks to list, it seems best to leave it off the list.

James Annan said...

An invite is *always* "they couldn't get the person they really wanted".

You think you were top of the list, really?

(generic "you", meaning me, on the rare occasions it has happened :-))

EliRabett said...

This is not the problem. The problem is the ones they want to invite accept and send a student or a postdoc. This is, as they say, the way the game is played.

Unknown said...

I'm surprised there is this much hand-wringing about this. If you are in the CV-grooming stage of your career, list it! In one way or another, however the norms in your field dictate. I would list it as "invited," but you can always have a subsection called "Public presentations" and list posters along with the "short talk", "oral presenation," or whatever your field calls what you did.

Leaving it off, in these competitive days, is never a realistic option!

Anonymous said...

Why not have a separate section of the CV titled "informal talks" or just "presentations given" where you can truthfully and honestly list things like seminars you gave in your own department or when invited by your collaborators to give talks to their research groups, or seminars given as part of a job search, and also these invited yet non formal talks mentioned in this blog post.

I think the point is that while there are many contexts in which one technically have been invited to give a talk, the term "Invited Talk" on an academic CV carries with it certain assumptions. One is that this is a formal venue like a conference and two is that you were formally invited and as such listed on the program by the technical committee.

To list informal talks as "Invited Talks" is stretching the meaning of the term as it is commonly understood to mean and is misleading. It is playing games.

One might retort "but I WAS invited to give this talk therefore it's an 'invited talk' "'s not the point. The point is not what the definition of an Invited Talk is to YOU but what the definition is understood to be in general. Otherwise it's being disingenuous.

Another retort may be "but everyone is doing it so if I don't I will be at a disadvantage"...that's an entirely different issue...

Anonymous said...

I list all talks, but do not distinguish between invited/contributed/last-minute ... .

I do distinguish between peer-reviewed talks and unreviewed ones. The unreviewed ones (including invited ones) count much less in my estimation.

Anonymous said...

In theory, peer reviewed presentations ought to count more than non-reviewed invited talks. But I know that my dean counts invited plenary presentations as more significant than peer reviewed accepted papers. I think he assumes that most reasonably good quality papers will pass peer review muster, but a plenary invitation is a signal that you are recognized in the field.