My least favorite things about my job:
· Grading. Oh. My. Goodness.
· Recruiting participants. Please, please, be in my study about sex? On my first big grant, we individually emailed and called all participants for data collection. I needed to promise myself some kind of reward every evening to get through the phone calls. Web-based data collection is the best invention ever.
· Writing letters of recommendation (and external tenure letters). I can’t handle the stress of knowing that what I do or do not write could affect the rest of someone’s career trajectory.
I hate networking. I am kind of an introvert, but a chatty one. I get overstimulated too easily. And although I’m chatty, I constantly worry about saying the wrong thing, and tend to interpret everything I am about to say or just said from all possible lenses to see if it could sound offensive or stupid. Fun!
All that said, through practice and repetition and force of will, I have been able to do it. I wouldn’t say that I’m good at it. And, I still don’t enjoy it (I love the moment at a conference when I close my hotel room door, kick off my shoes, and get to chat with my conference buddy/roommate).
Why do I do it then? Networking does help in forging a successful career. As more people in the field know you and your work, others will ask you to be part of symposium submissions, to review journal articles, to write chapters, to serve on committees… okay, as I write that, I’m making it sound like networking only leads to more work. But it leads to the kind of work that helps with name recognition and advancing into leadership roles. When you need external letter writers for tenure review, it helps if people in your field know you. It isn’t mandatory – I’ve written several tenure review letters for people I have never met. But it can help. And if you might want a job change in the future, departments are more likely to approach you if you have established yourself in your field.
So, here are some suggestions that either I used when I was more junior, or that I still do (or that I've seen others use).
1. Use connections. Get people you know to introduce you to others. Your adviser is obviously a great resource. Some advisers do this naturally, but other advisers (particularly if they are not very oriented toward networking) may not think to do this. Ask them. Tell your adviser, I’m really interested in meeting Monique Ward, and I know you went to grad school with her – could you introduce us? If not your adviser, ask other faculty in your department or former students from your lab/department who might know faculty elsewhere… anyone you can think of can be a potential connector.
2. Approach people. After a talk, approach the presenter and introduce yourself. You don’t have to say much. The main points can be: I really enjoyed your talk. My name is Eva Lefkowitz. I’m currently a grad student at UCLA and I’m also very interested in communication about sexuality. Over time, that person is going to remember you. I actually have a big network of people whom I know through conference introductions, and it includes people senior to me whom I met when I was junior, people at my level whom I met at various stages of my career, and people junior to me who introduced themselves to me.
3. Set daily goals. If you are shy about approaching people, set yourself a daily goal before you leave for a conference, such as, I will introduce myself to two professors in my field every day for 3 days. Having a tangible goal is easier than going to a conference with the vague goal to network/meet people. Once you have met your two people that day, you do not have to think about it anymore, which is motivation to get it done early in the day.
4. Follow up afterward. If you introduce yourself to someone at a conference, consider sending a follow-up email. Make it brief, but mention that you enjoyed meeting the person, and you hope to see her again (if there is a specific conference/event coming up that she is likely to attend, you can include the specifics). Sometimes when people send me these emails they include a recent publication with the email. Honestly, I am unlikely to read the paper unless it’s very relevant to what I do, so be judicious if you include an attachment.
5. Organize symposia. Consider organizing a conference symposium for an upcoming meeting. I generally attend the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) and the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), which meet in alternating years. When I was junior, I would attend the conference with a very general theme for my symposium submission for the following year. If I attended a talk or met someone at a poster who was a great speaker on a relevant area, I would mention my idea to submit a symposium on that topic. I would then follow up via email within a month. Generally, I would aim for people who were somewhat senior to me, but not necessarily the most senior people in the field. Once I had a couple of people lined up, I would then email more senior people about adding a talk to the symposium or being a discussant. I met a number of people this way, and they became familiar with my work.
6. Attend emerging scholar events. SRA and Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood (SSEA) both have active and engaged emerging scholar programs. Many of these events are designed for junior scholars to meet senior scholars. Attend as many of these events as you can, and make sure you introduce yourself. Attend Meet the Scientist luncheons or similar events, even if the key scholar’s work is not exactly in your area.
7. Volunteer. Many societies (including SRA, SRCD, and SSEA) have emerging scholars on the executive council, and use volunteers for a range of committees and conference activities. Getting involved in this way is an excellent opportunity to meet both other junior people – who will develop into senior scholars, just like you – and more senior people involved in the organization. Do not underestimate the value of meeting scholars at the same career stage as you. They can potentially serve as connectors to other more senior people. More importantly, they are likely to remain active in the field, and to become colleagues or friends. Knowing more people at conferences makes attending much more enjoyable.
8. Attend departmental events. If your department or university has a social gathering at the conference, attend. Students sometimes think that these events are not worthwhile because they see fellow students back home all the time. But many alumni attend these events, and it is an opportunity to network with people who likely love your department and university, and are invested in the future success of current students.
9. Email in advance to set up get together. I admit I have never done this. But I have been approached by others to get together for coffee at a specific conference. This tactic works best if you have something specific to discuss – for instance, you would like to talk about post doc opportunities to work with this person, or you want to learn more about a measure he developed.
10. Prepare your elevator talk. My student Rose Wesche told me that her undergraduate adviser, Nancy Darling (who writes a fabulous blog on parenting; if you haven’t read it, please do!) taught her to prepare an elevator talk before standing by her poster. In Rose’s words: “I was told to pretend I was in an elevator with the person who asked me to describe my research, and I had to make my description brief enough that I would be done by the time I had to get out of the elevator. The ‘elevator speech’ has definitely come in handy at conferences.” Even beyond standing at a poster, having a very brief summary prepared will help you avoid getting flustered when someone you just met asks, “What do you do?”
I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately (sabbatical), as well as much editing (3 students working on various stages of their theses, editing chapters for an edited volume, and a number of co-authored manuscripts). So, I’m moving off of conferences and onto writing. If you have any writing-related questions (or any professional development questions, really), leave a comment or email me and I’ll try to address it in a future post.
“The post How to network at a conference, first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s Blog on October 29, 2013.”