When you were a kid, you probably have at least once fantasized about meeting your dream actress/singer/sportsman/whatever. And in your worst nightmares, when you actually met them, you were unable to say something that did not sound stupid.

Now that you are all grownup, you may be confronted to a quite similar situation. Imagine meeting a scientist whose work you admire, or whose lab would be a tremendous postdoc place for you (it should go together). Now imagine (no, really, do it) meeting that prof, and having the opportunity to tell him/her what your research is about. “Hello, young anonymous student, what’s your research about?”. And imagine that you come nothing structured with. That you stutter trivialities and forget the essential. And that you keep the rest of your PhD thinking “I should’ve said that!”.

But fear not, my friend, for I come with an advice!

That advice is quite simple really: “be prepared”. Don’t wait to meet a prospective employer/collaborator to know how to expose optimally your projects in a tiny amount of time. Now let me develop a bit (or that post will be too short, and I will again be yelled at): if someone, at a congress or elsewhere, asks you “so, what’s your research about?”, there are only two things you should know.

First, you should be receptive to the attention span your interlocutor is likely to devote to your response. Is it likely to be short? Like you can see behind that someone is already waiting to steal the prof’s attention? Or is it longer, like you’re sitting together in the bus to the tour congress?

The second thing is to prepare for two types of response: one short, and one super short. If a long one is needed, you don’t really need to prepare it. The super short one is what I’ve heard called “the Elevator Talk”: imagine you’ve entered in an elevator with that prof, and she/he asks you what’s your project about. You know you don’t have minutes before one of you leaves. You have to be able to explain not only the question, but also the interest and the approach of your project in about 20 seconds. So the best is to prepare that in advance. Write a few sentences. Straight to the point, but as appealing as possible. About 100-150 words. It should be sufficient to explain what you are doing and why this is super-interesting.


The short version is if the attention span is likely to be a bit longer. For example, you meet the prof in the poster room, or during a coffee break or if after the Elevator talk, you hear “that sounds great, tell me more!”. That’s the “Hall Talk”: you’ll have a bit more time, but you should still prepare what to say and how most effectively and interestingly describe your project. Aim for a few minutes, something like 500 words (but be flexible, pay attention to the prof’s responsiveness, to reduce or expand).

Of course, if you are able also to make a nano-short response, that can be handy; like answering in one single sentence, but in such a way that one wants to hear the rest.

There. That’s all. Oh, and yes, needless to say, for all that there is a third thing that you should know very well: what you research is really about.


  1. Best known as “the elevator pitch”. Many many resources on this topic available online, just “Google it” for more info 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Little did I know when I wrote this post that today I would meet Arnold Schwarzenegger in my elevator!
    Quite happy I knew what to say quickly when he asked me what I do in life 😀


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