5:20 a.m. 13 October 2010, Seoul National University
It is very quiet. I am in a room at Hoam Faculty House on campus. The taxi ride last night from Incheon Airport took over an hour, but after 17 hours on the plane not including layovers in Chicago, L.A., and Tokyo, it didn’t feel like long at all.
We glided in over some massive lighted bridges and a causeway. After a while the scenery became more mountainous and the road more twisty, winding in and around hills and massive apartment complexes.
It reminded me of the late nineties when I and a friend first came to South Korea to teach English. We flew into Pusan that time and I was green. It is amazing how much has stayed with me since then: the elegant and easy-to-use alphabet you can learn to read in a day; the tangy bite of kimchi and its rocket-fuel repercussions on my energy levels; all the greetings and niceties that bracket everyday conversation and interactions; even the ‘arirang’ song that a TV station is named after. If I didn’t fully realize it thirteen years ago, I certainly do now: South Korea will always be something of a home to me.
First things first, however: I am here for a job interview; to be interviewed and to interview; to give a ‘job talk,’ my first such experience. I am ready, having practiced three times before getting on the plane. My rule is: never practice a presentation on the day of the presentation. You have only one in you the day of: when the time comes, deliver it with all the feeling and passion it deserves.
Without a doubt one of the highlights of doing my PhD at McGill has been giving presentations both at McGill and at professional meetings and conferences. I received funding for a couple and a couple of others I funded myself, from RA and TA work. Thus I found myself travelling to Las Vegas; Fernie, BC; Boston; and Ottawa.
The feedback I received during question periods after each one has been an invaluable part of the work I have accomplished during my time at McGill. Conferences are a great place to meet your colleagues from across the country. Sometimes this has resulted in invitations to publish articles. And of course, I have always tried to publish my presentation papers, in modified form, in the scholarly journals. (This is a work in progress: I have several such papers in various states of readiness and review).
The job talk is a different beast with a purpose somewhat different from a presentation to experts in the field from other schools, friends and interested public. The job talk must convince potential future co-workers and collaborators that it would be worth their carefully balanced time and effort to make you part of their individual, collective and institutional equation.
Mine has two parts: research and teaching. They are intended as separate but complementary entities with unique and different (in terms of design and layout) styles.
Another thing I push myself to do is get better each time I give a certain talk. I’m always refining the wording to be better, more concise, or more context appropriate.
For instance, this morning, as I write this, I took a break to look up the polite forms of ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to bracket my speech. Intangibles matter too: pacing, breathing, eye contact (not too much, and share it, distribute it across the room, find your allies, and then find the sceptics, then make your talk play across the two), posture.
These things will certainly be important today, but I’m not overly focused on them. I’m ready.