July 25, 2011
Here are some gadgets and software that made the job search process smoother and more productive.
- Store your presentation on a USB drive in every conceivable format: PPT, Keynote, PDF, PS, HTML and Flash. Also keep these in a hidden directory on your personal website. Don't leave yourself at the mercy of your laptop or the TSA.
- One thing I noticed from watching other job talks (and from reading Even a Geek Can Speak) is that presenters tethered to their laptops or podiums during a presentation come across as less engaging. A good presentation remote frees you up to move about the room, touch the screen and express yourself. (A bad presentation remote will inexplicably exit your slideshow or jump to the end -- or beginning -- of your talk because you pressed the wrong button.) I strongly recommend the Kensington. This unassuming remote has actually won awards from IDSA (and deservedly so). It's compact and ergonomic. It runs on easy-to-find AAA batteries. It has a laser pointer. And it's just too simple to screw up while you're in front of an audience. I bring it to every conference I attend, and invariably, I make friends by lending it out to presenters who have forgotten their remotes.
- If interviewing in a foreign country, don't forget to bring a universal power converter. If you do forget it, ask the hotel front desk if you can borrow one.
- Buy a power splitter for airports. The time you spend in airports while on the interview circuit may be measured in days, especially with foreign interviews and long layovers. Most of the available power outlets in airports seem to be taken as soon as they free up. I got frustrated with not being able to work in airports, so I bought an inexpensive, lightweight, compact travel power splitter. This made my time in airports a lot more productive.
- I spent a lot of time tweaking my slides on planes, so the Apple airplane power adapter was handy. Look underneath your seat the next time you're on a plane; you'll probably find a funky-looking power plug that you can fit this into. This was invaluable on international flights, and it worked on about half of my domestic flights. I think other laptop manufacturers offer these now too.
- My wife convinced me that my job talk was the appropriate time to dump LaTeX and Beamer in favor of a "real" presentation tool. I switched to Apple iWork's Keynote. What surprised me was that my slideshow took less time to create than with LaTeX, and I had a lot of fun putting together animations for my research. I inserted video of expensive rockets exploding to showcase the cost of software bugs. I think the dynamism in my slides helped sell my research program. If you want to make Keynote look like a fancier version of Beamer, you can install the iconic Computer Modern fonts for use with math.
- Finally, I'd recommend having a GPS-enabled smartphone if you'll be navigating in new cities. While you're in each city, go out and explore with impunity. Ask yourself: Could I actually live here?
Matt Might is assistant professor of computer science at the University of Utah.
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