Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Apologies for the light (okay, nonexistent) blogging last week. Personal matters filled my free time, but now the issues are resolving, so I am going to try to get back on schedule.

Last post, I announced my theme of the year, "putting myself out there". ScienceWoman commented, "But I think it should also apply to networking-like-hell at conferences."

How true! And probably one of the things I need to do the most work on. I begin to feel overwhelmed quickly in large gatherings, and I have trouble sometimes handling situations that do not have well established rules of engagement. For instance, I do just fine in a talk + question-and-answer format, and do ask questions, even though I feel really nervous. I have discovered that it makes it easier if I write the question down first (during the talk) - then all I have to do is read it when my turn comes. However, during less formally organized types of situations, a more sophisticated strategy is required. You cannot write down your questions in advance. In fact, you often don't even know who you will be talking to in advance.

I have been told (repeatedly) that the only way to get better at these things is to practice. I am accepting that advice and seeking out opportunities to network. For example, I recently received an email notifying me of a symposium near me that I could attend, and present at, requiring no travel. Normally, I would wait for my PI to suggest that I apply. But this time, I took the initiative and asked him what he thought about it. He agreed it would be a good opportunity for me, so I'm going. Now, I just have to get my abstract in and see what happens.

I don't think anyone else in the lab is planning on going, so this will be the first time I will not have other members of the lab to fall back on - I'm going to have to talk to people I don't know for the whole day. I plan to make up some business cards, and practice quickly describing my work in a clear, succinct, and memorable manner. I'm also going to be on the lookout for more opportunities like this.

Yes, I am dying for more suggestions.


Comrade Physioprof said...

The single most important key to networking is to constantly remember that nothing makes people happier than to have you express genuine interest in what they give a fuck about. Go up to people, express genuine interest in their science, listen actively to what they have to say, and you will have them eating out of your hand.

Mrs. Comet Hunter said...

Kudos to you for taking this step and recognizing that you need to work on it. I agree with CPP that it makes things much easier when you show genuine interest in what other people are doing.

I have HUGE issues with networking, especially at conferences. I don't know what it's like in your field, but at conferences I attend there are definite "cliques", and it's really hard to break into any of them. My supervisor also isn't the best at introducing me, so even if they are there I'm still basically on my own.

I look forward to an update on how things go. It'd be great if could let us know what worked and what didn't!

acmegirl said...

CPP, that sounds like something I can do. But I wonder what you mean by "express genuine interest". I do worry about needing to come up with super-duper intelligent questions. Because sometimes that is hard when there is a lot going on around me or I am nervous.

ScientistMother said...

CPP gives excellent advice and I also think business cards for yourself are memorable. I don't think you question has to be super duper intelligent. I find that most people appreciate it when I say "hold on you lost me there, I don't understand how you made this leap/connection" Why? because if when you stop them to say, hey clear this part up, you were (1) obviously listening which is how you know something wasn't clear (2) you care about what they're saying b/c by asking for clarification you are demonstrating you interest in understanding what they are doing.

EcoGeoFemme said...

Sometimes I think it's easier when you're on your own. It's too easy to fall back on people you know. You are forced to branch out when you're at a meeting without your labmates. Good luck!

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Do you have any conferences or symposia hosted by your institution (or nearby ones)? Getting practice by networking on the smaller scale helps a lot.

Also, I found that my anxiety was far lower when The Boss was not within earshot.

At poster sessions, have a pdf copy of your poster with your business card stapled to it for people to take off-hours. Although most won't likely contact you, it's pretty sweet to know how many copies were taken (and I did get a postdoc offer as a result of one of those being taken!)

ScienceWoman said...

Yay for you on putting yourself out there.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Not only does it get easier the more you do it, but it also gets easier because you'll begin to see familiar faces. I went solo to a conference rather outside of my particular expertise (though still relevant to my research) a couple of years ago, met a huge number of people, learned a lot. Now every time I go to another conference, I bump into these people and we are like long-lost friends. Total immersion is the way to go (EGF is right).

Business cards would seem tacky for my field but it's a field-specific thing. But you DON'T need to ask super intelligent questions. SM is on target: just be interested. If you don't get what they're saying--they probably didn't explain it well. Remember, you're not the only one who's learning how to network.

acmegirl said...

That's a good thing to remember, that other people might be feeling as awkward as I do. And I agree that not having cronies about will force me to talk to new people.

So, why would it be tacky to have a business card? I don't intend to press it upon people, but I would be able to give it to people who asked for my contact info.