Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to get invited to give talks

It's good to give talks at other institutions as a graduate student. You get to meet new people, learn about new research areas, swap ideas, get feedback on your work, get practice giving talks, etc. And it looks nice on your CV.

As far as I can tell, there are about four ways to get invited to give talks:

Photo by Husky
1) Be a superstar, and people will just invite you to give talks all the time

This is pretty unlikely as a graduate student, unless you're like my friend Hedy, who seems to get talk invitations all the time. She also is often asked to serve on program committees, submit journal papers, etc. Her research is just that smoking.

2) Have an advisor who is good at networking

I'm sorry to say odds are stacked against you if you're a Computer Scientist, because we all know how the joke goes: "The introverted Computer Scientist looks at their own shoes while talking, and the extroverted Computer Scientist looks at yours." Lots of truth there.

Some people get lucky, and if they don't get advisors who are good at networking they at least get ones who are superstar researchers. What happens in this case is the superstar advisor is so busy being awesome they have no time to accept all the invitations they get, thus passing them on to you.

For those of us who are (not yet) superstars, and/or have shy advisors, how do you get talk invitations? Well, I've found two tricks to work pretty well -

3) Talk swap

The idea here is you know someone who is doing neat research, and they either live close to your institution or they will be visiting some time soon. So you invite them to come give a talk. Often times, they will return the invitation. A colleague and I did this once recently. His institution is an hour away from me. So he gave a talk in my research group, and a few weeks later I traveled to give a talk at his research group.

4) Invite yourself

Academics, at least Computer Scientists, love to be entertained. So when we have someone who says, "Hi, I'm doing research in area X. I'm going to be in town the last week of November, can I come give a talk?" most places are very happy to have you. Especially if you come on someone else's dime. I've never done this cold - I've always at least known someone who knew someone - but I know people who have and I think it's perfectly acceptable.

You can do this if you're traveling for academic reasons (e.g., conference, project meeting), but you can also do it when you're going somewhere for a vacation. Though do keep in mind you're more likely to receive a "yes" if you offer to come during the fall or spring semester. Winter break and summer are usually not the best time to go give talks, at least at my university, because many people are away.

If you are shy yourself, it can be a bit nerve wracking to invite yourself somewhere, but it's worth doing. The worst that happens is someone will say "No thank you," but it's really a small risk and can pay off handsomely. I've made a lot of fantastic contacts and met quite a few collaborators due to giving talks at their institutions, and learned about new areas of research which later fed into my own work.


  1. nice post.

    how many days-spent-at-seminar talks+conferences/year is a good number for a grad student interested in a career in research? Obviously it depends on a whole bunch of factors, but just wondering what your best generalized estimate would be.

    I know personally my first few years in grad school I spent 5-10 days max on such travel, but now in my last two years that number is much higher and perhaps too high.

  2. @GMP: Thanks!

    @Anon: Thanks, and good question. I fear my response is too long for a comment and is really turning into another post. Stay tuned. :)

  3. Great post! I am going to try the inviting myself over approach next year!