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Recap & Reflections: the Chalk Talk event

October 16, 2023
by Kanika Jain

Kanika Jain, PhD, and Tarun Tyagi, PhD, associate research scientists at the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center, share their experience at the Chalk Talk event, organized and sponsored by the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale.

The Chalk Talk event was a half-day workshop organized as a part of the Kavli postdoc series, a comprehensive initiative that brings together postdoctoral fellows in neuroscience at Yale University, irrespective of their department affiliations. The series aims to facilitate scientific discussions, cultivating peer support networks, and offers career development opportunities, with a particular emphasis on guiding postdocs in their transition to faculty positions.

The seminar commenced with an engaging presentation by Michael J. Higley, MD/PhD, associate professor in neuroscience and psychiatry. Higley’s talk revolved around the fundamental aspects of preparing a chalk talk, which he described as one of the most direct methods for evaluating a faculty candidate during the academic recruitment process. He underscored the significance of effectively communicating both short-term (usually five years) research plan and long-term (usually ten years) goals within the typically allotted time frame of 30 to 60 minutes. He emphasized the importance of practicing the chalk talk with a critical audience and conveying the most compelling aspects of the proposed research succinctly and clearly.

Higley stressed upon the necessity of showcasing how the proposed work diverges from the research conducted under the mentor's guidance, highlighting independent growth and the potential for success. He further underscored the importance of discussing the current subject knowledge, gaps that would be addressed and the significance of the proposed research ideas. Additionally, he cautioned against being overly ambitious in short-term projects with excessively broad scopes. He also urged attendees to strike a delicate balance in highlighting potential collaborative efforts within the prospective department without implying overreliance on other faculty members.

Following Higley's insightful presentation, Aaron Kuan, PhD, recently appointed assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience, delivered a remarkable demonstration of how to effectively structure and deliver a successful chalk talk. He provided valuable insights into addressing common questions and communicating the most interesting aspects of the proposed research program and his laboratory's plans with clarity. Since the audience may be from diverse backgrounds, Kuan emphasized conveying complex ideas in a simple manner without using highly specific scientific terms.

Subsequently, a select group of postdoctoral fellows presented mock chalk talks, followed by a session of questions and constructive feedback from both faculty members and the audience. This session served as an excellent opportunity for attendees to assess for themselves the dos and don'ts of a compelling chalk talk. Key aspects critiqued by the faculty included time management, clarity of thought, preparation of the chalk talk, and ensuring the research's independence and progression from previous projects. Overall, this seminar was exceptionally insightful and informative, providing valuable insights and preparation for navigating the academic faculty recruitment process.

Conducted as an annual fall event for early career researchers, please contact Pauline Charbogne, PhD, organizer and managing director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale, for more details on future events and workshops.

Submitted by Kanika Jain on October 16, 2023