My previous post was about networking at scientific conferences.
Derek Haseltine, Director for Research Career Development and Co-Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Scholars at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, gave so many great suggestions, I have presented them in two columns.
You might recall that Derek recommends dividing the conference networking into three parts:
#1 Pre-conference prep
#2 Networking at the conference
#3 Post-conference follow-up
2. At the conference
There you are at a scientific conference, (and after reading the first article), trying to network with people outside your institution.
Most conferences have networking receptions for specific peer groups – for junior investigators, students, or for fellows. These receptions provide a unique opportunity to find out where your peers are working and where they are interested in applying. Additionally, some meetings also include networking lunches with established professionals representing a wide range of scientific career options that serve as table hosts to share their experiences and provide career advice. These popular events are often oversubscribed, so check your meeting program when you register to avoid missing out. Look for these opportunities in the program (sometimes described as “social or professional development” events).
Consider volunteering at the conference. Volunteering can put you in situations where even shy people can’t help but meet new contacts.
Volunteers are often needed to register people – sitting at a registration table gives you a great opportunity to meet many people quickly and to have an easy, comfortable way to chat about their institutions.
Sometimes an association will need an interpreter or a volunteer to guide participants to their designated poster or escort a prominent speaker to the podium. These are great ways to get a little time for private discussion with someone you’d like to meet, and certainly less intimidating than a “cold” introduction. Another great volunteer task is helping the association schedule a speaker, which also gives you an easy, non-threatening way to connect with a leading scientist.
Many of these opportunities necessitate connecting with the conference organizers far in advance. Contact the meetings and/or outreach committees at your professional society to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
3. Post-conference follow-up
If you followed Derek’s suggestions for the conference preparation, you’ve seen how a little front-end preparation can make a big difference. Derek also recommends the students do follow-through work when they return from the meeting.
Even if you didn’t meet the investigators you wanted to talk with face-to-face, you should still be encouraged to introduce yourself and stay in touch with them via email. You can try to get the directory of registered attendees from the conference organizers.
Be very targeted in your follow-up. Acknowledge key investigators’ papers or grants. Ask them questions about their approach, and demonstrate that you are familiar with their work and actually read one of their papers. Look for opportunities to stay in touch with them. Never underestimate the value of a simple acknowledgement or congratulatory email in building and sustaining contacts.
You never know when you will be looking for a position or a collaborator in the future. Networking is most comfortable and effective when it’s ongoing, not a sudden immersion when you need a job. Keep your network active!