On Networking: A rant.

Mar 29 2012 Published by under Academia, Uncategorized

It never fails. Every professional development seminar I go to, one of the big bullet points is "NETWORK!". I see seminars on "Networking: let us maximize your LinkedIn Potential!". I just read a post on women succeeding in science and one of the bullet points was "network, network, network!".

What. IS. "Network".

From what I can tell, it's meeting people confidently, knowing people magically, and being able to contact those people and get favors without making them hate you. While we all would like to believe that one can remain and proceed successfully in academia based only on your merits...we all really know better. It's far more about who you have worked with, and who you KNOW. Then you get the position in which you can prove your merit.

That's all well and good, but HOW do you DO IT? How do you get to know these people? And more importantly, how do you do it in academia? Because you guys, I am getting seriously FRUSTRATED.

Am I all alone here? I have been to seminars on networking. From what I have learned at those seminars, we are all supposed to have business cards and hand them to each other, while smiling smoothly and saying things like "I'll be in touch". We then follow up via email, referring to where we have previously met the person and...saying something, though it is never clarified exactly what. From what I can tell of people in my academic field, they look on all people with business cards as being immediately suspect as being a possible "tool" or in the pocket of pharma (even more suspect), and phrases like "I'll be in touch" are reserved for people selling you something (yes, Bio-Rad, we KNOW you'll be in touch). Business cards and petty smooth phrases ring incredibly false. Email later referring to where you've met someone and get mocked, because most likely the person will not remember you.

On the other hand, from what I have heard at academic seminars and from profs on the internet, I am supposed to follow my boss around like a puppy (but not ingratiatingly, or non-smoothly, because that would just be annoying), and allow them to introduce me to all THEIR peeps. I would be totally into this...except my boss doesn't go to conferences. Or at least, they don't go to the conferences I go to, they go to the prestigious ones in Switzerland that I'm not invited to, and send me and my work to the national conferences.

Ok, then! I am told to go up to the people I am interested in meeting, and INTRODUCE MYSELF! We all have name tags! I'm sure it'll be fine! And I'll just go up and say who I work for and drop some pithy comment that they will think is totally cool and in line with current perspectives on the field. Then I will smoothly invite them to my poster.

Except it doesn't go like that at all. You go up to the person you want to meet at a conference or seminar? They WILL be talking to someone else. You can hover and looking annoying or weird, or try to butt in without interrupting and look annoying and weird. They will give you a sideways look to inquire WHY you are interrupting, and inform you with that look that you are annoying and weird. If your courage has not yet failed you, you can try to drop the name of your boss. IF you are very lucky, they will have heard of said boss, and ask whether they are here. If your boss is not there (and presumably they won't be because otherwise they'd introduce you and this whole thing wouldn't be awkward as hell), they will then wonder why you are wasting their time. You can invite them to your poster. Usually your poster is on the last day and afternoon of the conference (I have personally been cursed with this three times now), and they are leaving two days before, because the vast majority of big profs in my field stay for a net total of 48 hours of any given conference, and that's on the central two days. And of course, that's if you're lucky. If you're UNlucky, the person you're trying to talk to will have never heard of your boss. If they are nice they will deal with you for a minute or two anyway, but I have been literally walked away from with a dismissive gesture more than once.

I am supposed to research the type of people I will be meeting beforehand so I can comment intelligently on what they are doing...but not make it sound creepy like I've been internet stalking them. Ideally, you will have read (and be able to immediately recall) all their recent papers. This should go for all of the 20 people you are hoping to meet. Sadly, I don't have this kind of memory, and I'm not sure anyone does.

All of the advice I have received on networking in academia, in short, has not worked out like I had hoped. My best bets currently have been to talk to people at their posters (where you have something RIGHT THERE to comment on, this helps a lot), and at talks, where you ask a question or two, getting yourself in the person's good graces, or at least as a recognizable face. You can then follow up on those talk questions after the talk in the general mingling.

I've been to all the seminars. I've looked for networking advice. I really WOULD like to learn how to network effectively in academia. And so I ask you guys...what do you do? How do you approach someone without looking like a creeper? How do you remember all the pertinent details? And how do you transition from the work talk to things that will make them more likely to remember you, stay in touch, and maybe collaborate? How the HECK do you make it to getting invited along to dinner or to drinks at a bar after the poster session? Anyone? Sci (and I imagine, the rest of the masses) really wants to know. And I'm not exactly learning from the networking seminars. Academia is an intimidating place. You need to be prepared to defend everything about what you do, who you work for, the models you use. But you don't even get a chance to do that if you can't get your foot in the door. Anyone have any advice?

87 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    IME, It's not about handing out business cards or barging in on conversations or doing any number of things that genuinely are super socially awkward. It's about *recognizing* when there is a non-socially awkward opportunity, and milking *that* for all it's worth.

    Go to small conferences where meals are part of the day, and strike up conversation with whoever you're sitting next to. Keep in mind--this doesn't have to be superstar hotshot PI, but maybe it's a junior PI who happened to do their postdoc in superstar PI's lab, who will introduce you later at cocktail hour. Science is a small, small world.

    Seize opportunities in whatever form they present themselves--you know how I got my post-doc w Famous Dude? I was at SfN (at the beginning of 5th year of grad school), and while I was standing at my poster, I saw the father of a med student who'd rotated in my lab, and who runs in the same general circles as Famous Dude. I flat out asked, "if you see Famous Dude, can you tell him to come to my poster?" and he did! The rest, as they say, is history.

    Finally, keep in mind that "networking" per se is NOT about meeting Dr Fancypants. It's about meeting people, period. If Dr Fancypants isn't available, meet whoever's standing behind you in the coffee line. Grad student, post-doc, it doesn't matter. You never know who you're going to meet until you meet them, you know?

    • scicurious says:

      Thanks! This is helpful! Usually I don't get to go to the small meetings, boss is the one that goes to those. I have indeed met some interesting people standing in the coffee line (though people don't "chat" in the coffee line at SfN, what's up with that?).

  • Gingerwings says:

    Long time reader, first time writer. This article caught my eye in particular because of how many people I have met in academia who share this exact problem. I was lucky in a lot of ways because both my parents were scientists with lots of scientist friends who I grew up around, so most of my academic career has been spent trying to differentiate myself more than starting "from scratch." That said, I think I have known a remarkable amount of useful people on my own.
    I think one important thing about networking is mentioned above. If you want to leave a positive impression, you read enough that they have done that you can do more than just remember it; you can remember the thought or counterpoint you had while going down that topic. Those sorts of whims often offer a bit of constructive fodder when meeting someone for the first time, because it gives them a comfortable context with which to agree or perhaps teach, something people love doing.

    • Gingerwings says:

      Funny the person above mentions sfn, I've gone to that conference every year since I was little until now when I do posters and see all my old friends. The culture of that meeting in particular is stellar.

  • Jason Dick says:

    You are absolutely not alone, sci. I feel the exact same way. This is the main reason why I'm getting out of science now: I'm not good at networking, never have been. And without that, my prospects for a permanent position in academia are slim.

    Though fortunately it looks like my new job in private business will, in the end, be very much like the job I did in science...so I do expect it will work very well for me!

  • I agree with much of the above advice, but will also say that networking didn't really feel natural for me until I became a PI. Now, I have so much more freedom to DO things--if I meet someone doing cool science and I see an angle where we could work together, I can follow up with an email and suggest some projects. Or I can talk up students at poster sessions and encourage them to check out our graduate programs. It's so much less painful than networking as a grad student or post-doc was for me (like you, I found that extremely frustrating).

    I also wouldn't worry quite as much about the "know everyone's CV who you want to meet" angle. I'm happy if people know anything about my general area of research; save the 20 paper memorization for actual interviews.

    • scicurious says:

      Yeah, I feel a little better now that I have a PhD, but I also hear I'll never get a PI position unless I network.

      Usually I don't worry about knowing everyone's CV, but I've been stared down by some people standing nearby when I say something that reveals that I *gasp* haven't read Dr. BigWig's paper on X.

  • Sandlin says:

    I completely sympathize! Networking is hard- but somehow really important. I've found the key is to have something to say. Like the Good Dr Becca said, try chatting with people where you run into them, without an agenda. You probably won't end up in the buffet line with Dr. BigDeal, but you just want to endear yourself enough to people that they feel prepared to help you make that introduction. And one way to do that is to know things (location of bathroom, recommendation on a nearby bar, name of the tech guy who can make the projector work... whatever you have to offer). Another way is to connect the (few) people you do know.

    And, if your field is anything like mine, most of the old guy PIs still fancy themselves really party animals- why not just invite them out for drinks yourself? I figured this out at a meeting where a former grad student (now PI) wanted to catch up with us current grad students over drinks, and suddenly, several of the Olde Guardde were sharing our pitcher.... sweet.

    Oh, and don't forget that academics love to be asked for advice. "You've placed a lot of successful post-docs in the tenure track. How do you recommend I seek out a post-doc mentor who can help me like that?"

    I'm not really sure what you do with those interactions that are not super awkward- since they don't generally end with a job offer. I'd love to hear anyone comment on how to maintain and utilize those relationships.

    • scicurious says:

      The advice angle has definitely worked before and is a good one, thanks!!

      Asking PIs out...well...that can be...I've heard of other female students doing that with male PIs and giving...the wrong impression. If you know what I mean. With a female PI or senior person I'd have no qualms.

      • Sandlin says:

        Yeah, that can sometimes be an issue... hopefully less of an issue if you already have a cohort of cool trainees/network buddies and the PI feels like just part of the group.

        I had a buddy once tell me the only people worth 'networking' with are the ones you'd want to hang out with anyway. If the point is to find people who can do you favors down the road- it's easier to ask an actual friend then a "contact."

        Thanks for writing this post- there are some great ideas here!

    • Neurobonkers says:

      For me the whole thing comes down to *advice*. Turn up with a list of things you are *struggling with* and find people that can help.

      My most positive experience at a conference was on a late train home afterwards, sitting on the floor with an expert in the field with my Matlab outputs scattered all around me - getting the answers I really, really needed.

      Also, if you have questions that are relevant to the whole community - you're bloggers - ask if you can publish the answers. Interviews allow you to consolidate your ideas, highlight areas of conflict and bring the community together and people don't see it as a hastle - they tend to appreciate being asked.

  • Well, I guess the majority of scientists can relate to not being good at 'networking' - which you make sound like it's another word for small-talk. Science breeds people who are not the best small-talkers - or socializers for that matter. The whole spectrum exists, of course, the distribution is just somewhat skewed compared to the general population.
    Given that skewed distribution, more likely than not, the person you're trying to 'chat up' will have been in a similar situation more or less recently and should know better than giving you that look - or do you see that look because you expect it?

    IMHO it is perfectly normal to be approached by people who recognize your name on the tag and start a conversation with you - and I'm most definitively not Mr. Famous Dude! *


    1. Disregard the subjective impression that people give you weird looks. On the off chance that it's indeed not just your own perception of the situation, the person is most likely not justified in giving it to you anyway.
    2. If you can't small-talk, don't do it. If you want to meet the person for a reason, tell the person the reason, ask the question, tell them how important their work has been for yours, etc. If they keep engaging you, fine, if not, there won't be much of a network-node potential there anyway.
    3. Just go with your gut feeling: find people who you like to be around. If you fit in, they'll ask you to go for beers or dinner. I met most people at SfN like that - socially. I find it also the most relaxed way to talk about how our science might be connected: in an entertaining and funny way over beers. You don't want to be working for or with people who wouldn't want to have you around for dinner or beers anyway.

    Very short summary: don't over-mentalize about networking 🙂

    * It's a lot more funny, however, if they trash your work at their poster and then recognize your name when you're saying goodbye 🙂

  • Steph says:

    In my experience meeting people is far, far easier at small conferences (100-200 people), where there isn't a line to meet the Big Cheeses, the poster sessions are manageable, and you have a shot at an oral presentation. Also all the meals are taken together so you can have sit with different groups of people and if the science chit-chat fails you can talk about politics or something else. It's also very common at small conferences that the hierarchy is blurred, the PIs are dying to be invited out dancing and drinking with the postdocs, and many of them will be on the look out for promising postdocs to hire. I remember trying not to giggle hysterically at a small EMBO meeting when a PI asked to sit with me at dinner!

    I am a shy person so when I was a PhD student I stuck to networking with other students, but then you can get that student to introduce you to their boss, or join them for coffee. It took me about 5 years, but now when I go to conferences I know enough people on various steps of the ladder and can use them to meet others. Like, a network or something.

    I also did some really good networking by going to visit other institutes, hopefully give a talk and have meetings with various people. This was usually set up via my PI and a collaborator, with the aim of strengthening said collaboration, or learning a new technique or seeing a fancy instrument. That was quality time compared to the frantic networking at a conference. It's a great way to scope out future job scenarios too.

    • scicurious says:

      "I also did some really good networking by going to visit other institutes, hopefully give a talk and have meetings with various people. This was usually set up via my PI and a collaborator, with the aim of strengthening said collaboration, or learning a new technique or seeing a fancy instrument. That was quality time compared to the frantic networking at a conference. It's a great way to scope out future job scenarios too."

      This is really awesome, and I hope you know how awesome it is. I've seen a few trainees that get this done for them, but the vast majority of PIs would probably not set up talks for their trainees with collaborators, they usually end up going themselves. Getting to other labs to learn new techniques is KILLER good.

  • "If they are nice they will deal with you for a minute or two anyway, but I have been literally walked away from with a dismissive gesture more than once."

    I'm sorry to hear that, but at least now you know those people are dicks and don't need to be bothered with. Maybe they would be OK as an adviser, but if that is how they treat strangers then they will certainly not help you in your networking. At least you tried to reach out. I would just say: Keep it up!

    Jim Green is NASA's Director of Planetary Science (so he's kind of a big deal), and recently spoke about networking. To paraphrase Jim: "Talk to us!" For a very long time as a young researcher, Jim says he was too shy or nervous to introduce himself to the science bigwigs, and only after several years did he start breaking the ice. (basically: you're not alone in your anxiety but get over it)

    Yes, you (the general 'you') may not have the easy manner of a well-rounded public speaker, and you may not have the depth of knowledge of your adviser, but that is OK. You are a young scientist. It's a blessing and a curse. Introduce yourself and mention what you are working on or interested in, or what you're doing at the conference. Start giving talks and posters and writing papers to get your name out there so you have something to bring to the table. I realize I'm approaching the hyperbole you were annoyed with, so my answers to some of your questions:

    --How do you approach someone without looking like a creeper?
    If you want to work with them in the future, email them. Say it would be nice to meet at the conference if they have the time. Try and catch them at a coffee break, or poster session, or in the hallway if they're not in a rush. Don't flatter yourself, either: If you're standing twenty feet away in a crowded hallway waiting to talk to them, don't think they'll notice you.

    --How do you remember all the pertinent details?
    You don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of their work, because they will not quiz you. General knowledge is perfectly acceptable.

    --And how do you transition from the work talk to things that will make them more likely to remember you, stay in touch, and maybe collaborate?
    Don't rely on the one meeting. Follow up if you want to collaborate. Talk to them again the next year and accept it if they don't remember you. One day they will.

    --How the HECK do you make it to getting invited along to dinner or to drinks at a bar after the poster session?
    Don't expect this out of the blue. The only time my adviser brings young people out for drinks/dinner is if they're applying (or have emailed saying they're considering applying) to our research group. Luckily my adviser is cool and has taken us out to meet a number of big names.

    And to echo Dr. Becca: Don't just focus on Fancypants! Talk to other grad students, post-docs, or other recent graduates. Those people will be your colleagues for the next fifty years.

  • Shecky R says:

    1) Focus on those people you sincerely want to meet or share an interest with... some folks can glad-hand with anybody and do fine, but most of us do come off as phony if we try schmoozing with someone just because of who they are and not because of any genuine interest in them or their work.

    2) Also, I'm wondering how much, if at all, you bring up your blogging life at such conferences/meetings? In the blogosphere of course you have a great standing, but in the minds of many established scientists blogging is still not a serious endeavor (and would hurt your cause). Perceptions will keep changing over the years, but for now, blogging isn't always respected. (Folks often recognize how their Facebook or Twitter pages could potentially hinder their professional advancement, but blogging can as well -- sometimes employers fear active bloggers as potential unprofessional 'loose cannons')

    • scicurious says:

      Shecky, NO WORRIES. I never bring up the blogging life unless I have to, I know full well it would be a conversation killer. 🙂 So much so that I won't even cover the work of people in my direct field when I'm blogging a conference, because I don't want to ruin my chances.

  • physioprof says:

    None of what you are talking about has anything to do with "networking skills" or "networking techniques" or whether other people are "dicks".

    In science, 95% of what matters to networking is what you publish. If you haven't published first- or senior-author papers that people have taken notice of, then no one will have an incentive to spend time talking to you.

    And why should they? They are at a scientific conference to engage in scientific discourse, and they have no evidence that you are a productive scientist.

    As soon as you publish noteworthy papers as a first- or senior-author, people will want to talk to you.

    • reformed academic says:

      Physioprof, you sound like a (long tenured) prof. BigWigs are too often dicks. Yeah, too many BigWigs spend so much time in the spotlight, they start to actually think their large ego is justified and start acting like the "dismissive hand gesture" person to anyone who they deign to be academically not up to their standards. That's happened to me even after being first author on papers and helping bring in large grants. I was once told "Without us, you'd be nothing" from one such type. While I am not an outgoing person, I am pretty aggressive once I'm pissed off, so I managed to work in ways around that person's bosses so that they removed him from that particular "table of interaction" within a year. I feel that if you are a scientist, and you can get 10 minutes of (say) the US President's time, THEN you really are a BigWig. Until then, you have no reason not to act human, decent, and honorably. And if you _have_ reached that point... well, no doubt you always did act honorably.

      Don't be a dick. Period. No matter how big your wig is.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Some recent advice I liked: http://hadiyahdotme.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/ted2012-and-why-conferences-will-never-be-the-same/

    "1. Perfect your speed pitch/introduction — It doesn’t have to be a pitch per se, but a laser focus introduction of who you are, and why this person may be interested in connecting with you. ...

    "2. Attend a conference with a purpose — ... What are you trying to accomplish from attending the conference? Be specific in your goals. ‘Meet people’ is not a specific goal, plus you can meet people at the supermarket. ...

    "3. Be present in conversation and listen.

    "4. Become a connector — Everyone you meet at a conference may not be in direct alignment with your current goals. However, networking in its purist form is actually just building a network. You become a node in the network and have the ability to connect others and align goals. Plus its just good networking karma."

  • John Bruno says:

    Dr Becca - loved your comment

    Jason Dick - that is a rash decision: networking is useful, but certainly not critical in science. It isn't nearly as important as doing and publishing great science (re, physioprofs comment). And it is at least as important in business (and in any other profession). Remember, science largely (but not completely) functions as a meritocracy.

    Tara: That is my experience too-networking was PAINFUL as a grad student, but becomes much more natural later on, I think bc it is easier to network w peers. In fact, most of the useful "networking" I did as a student was with other students, often in an inebriated state: they all grew up to be PIs and are now reviewers, collaborators, etc.

    Pro tip 1: Work with a PI that promotes their students at conferences, introduces them to people, etc.

    Pro tip 2: Flattery is a power aphrodisiac to big-ego fancy-pants profs.

    Pro tip 3: Network via the net! Twitter, FB, etc.

    Pro tip 4: Don't over think this! Don't go to networking seminars (I didn't even know they existed till I read this post).

    I also agree w Steph, it can take years, but you eventually find a community in science and at meetings at this all gets easier.

    And like the story about Jim Green above describes: shy grad students grow up to be shy fancy-pants PIs. I bet they feel intimidated being in a crowd of young, hipster tattoo-laden grad students.

    • scicurious says:

      I think Protip number 1 is by far the most effective. Unfortunately, some of us don't get lucky there. 🙁

      But networking via the net has been very helpful, and you all have given me some ideas!

    • Zen Faulkes says:

      Doubt I count as a fancy-pants prof *, but I detest flattery in the form I usually see it: dull, clueless, generic,meaningless compliments. Emails referring to my "world famous work" usually reek of incompetence, desperation, or both. And that's not a nice perfume.

      * I don't wear full length pants much; South Texas is friggin' hot.

  • Odyssey says:

    To some extent CPP is right - the "big cheeses" often need a reason to talk to you. Remember, many, many people are trying to bend their ears. I think though that Dr Becca nailed it with:

    Finally, keep in mind that "networking" per se is NOT about meeting Dr Fancypants. It's about meeting people, period. If Dr Fancypants isn't available, meet whoever's standing behind you in the coffee line. Grad student, post-doc, it doesn't matter. You never know who you're going to meet until you meet them, you know?

    One of my most productive collaborations came out of a conversation I struck up with someone sitting next to me at lunch at a small meeting. He was a new assist prof no one there knew. Turned out he was an expert in a technique I didn't even know I needed at the time. We're both beginning to profit enormously from the collaboration that grew out of that conversation.

  • Michele says:

    Hi there,
    One of our R&D scientists wrote a pretty good blog about networking, unfortunately wordpress.promega.com appears to be down right now so I can't send you the link in this comment. (Know what I'll be troubleshooting after I finish here...)
    But, emailing folks coming to meetings before the meeting and arranging a chance to speak with them sometimes helps get rid of the awkwardness of walking up cold turkey.
    And, I agree with comments above, if you can go to local or regional meetings, sometimes the smaller attendance makes meeting people a little easier.
    Personally, I hate the coffee-break/cocktail party networking business, it feels like the most artificial thing in the universe to me, and I have found breaking the ice with email (or back in my day even hand written letters) really helped.

  • NatC says:

    Don't forget other post-docs/grad students!! So really networking = drinking (or eating, or whatever).
    In the long term, a lot of important connections in your "network" happen organically through other post-docs or grad students. Friends, conference buddies, and that post-doc in famous dude's lab? They will be your colleagues, they will be in departments and on search committees, and provide collaboration opportunities too. In a few years, they'll be inviting speakers to conferences and seminars.
    In the short term, ask these post-docs/grad students for introductions to their boss/other famous scientist people in their current department.

    But by far the best "networking" activity I've found? Being on the job market.

    • scicurious says:

      True, I do well networking with my own cohort. Maybe some day we'll be famous!!!

      • NatC says:

        Then you'll be fiiiine!
        IME the famous ones are too busy/important to help you out. I'm working on a grass-roots model. It seems to be working for me.

  • Katie PhD says:

    Ughhhhhh Sci these are EXACTLY my experiences with conferences. In grad school I've been to two. One was giant (the RNA Society Meeting in Berlin) and the other teensy (a Gordon Conference in Newport, RI). At the RNA meeting I was with three other people from my university, and we had an absolute blast. We made friends with a ton of other graduate students and post-docs and found an awesome bar near the hotel that was open til 5am....but the closest we got to talking to the big cheeses was "papparazzi-ing" them from the balcony overlooking the lunch line. They were constantly surrounded. The only big time people I got to talk to were a couple who know my aunt, who used to be in science. She had told them to seek out my poster and talk to me. Which was awesome...but really dosen't translate into useful advice.

    At the Gordon Conference my PI was there with me. Great, I thought. Not so much...all her old friends were there and she was having a fab time reconnecting. And then at the last lunch she berated me for not networking more effectively. My jaw hit the floor! I had spent the conference stalking the "cool cliques" but never once managed to break in, and definitely got a couple of sideways glances when I tried to join conversations.

    Le sigh.

    Good luck, and I look forward to the follow up post about what worked 🙂

  • Jacquelyn says:

    I love this post, because it says out loud what I have suspected so many of us have thought. You've really made an important point about mentoring being an important part of networking-- that established scientists have to make themselves somewhat available in order for this to work according to the classic model. I definitely agree that smaller conferences are often better places for this kind of activity.

    Over the last couple of years, I've come to the conclusion that networking is an entirely different beast than what we've been told it is. I think it functionally ends up being more of a lateral than vertical process, to be honest. Rather than forcing myself into the conversations of scientists a generation or two ahead of me, I more often find myself reaching out to my academic peers and creating relationships that are much more likely to result in collaborations or projects.

    I do think , though, that we-- especially women and those in underrepresented groups-- can really make a commitment to be more available to those coming behind us. I like to tell myself that I'll recognize the telltale signs of the young padawan waiting in the wings to introduce themself, and that I'll reach out. I hope I'm never that person with the irritated look wondering, "why does this young whipper-snapper want to interrupt my conversation?"

    • Zen Faulkes says:

      Big yes on the "lateral" networking; connecting with those peers at the early stages (grad school and post docs) doesn't get enough attention. The only problem is that those peer connections really can take a long time to pay off professionally.

      Maybe the problem is that people expect networking to pay off over the course of months. Years, or even decades, might be a better time frame.

      (Though it gets depressing as you go along to see how many people you used to see at conferences aren't there any more.)

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am unclear on why you are so frustrated, Sci. You seem to feel like your networking is somehow failing or deficient. Can you explore why?

    Is it because at this stage of your career not every luminary instantly recognizes you and opens the magic fairy doors to being seen as a player? Kandel doesn't have you on speed dial yet?

    That not every mid career type interrupts *her* networking to meet *you*?

    This stuff is gradual and incremental.

    The notion that all that is required is a pub, and that networking on other than that basis is useless, is totally wrongheaded.

    • scicurious says:

      LOL, it's not my fault that people fail to recognize my brilliance. 🙂

      No, it's that I feel I can't network with people with confidence, I don't know how to really "talk science" to people informally. When I talk about someone's paper at a meeting, other people seem to act like that is odd. I often need to remind myself with figures and such, and not having them there makes me miss out on a lot of people saying "but of COURSE we all know the error bars in supplemental figure 3 were AWFUL...". I have a better time at posters where I can easily see the data. And many times I see people at the bar or something and just fail on what to say.

      I'm also trying to break in to a somewhat new field where my old contacts don't know people, so my old friends and colleagues can't really help.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Sci,
        I wrote the blog post linked above and just found your blog. I felt like that for so long! Like I was terrible at talking science informally because I can never remember what i feel are important details. The trick for me was realizing that almost everyone had the same fears as I did! People who make the error bar comment out loud have just figured out how to play the game. You don't have to come up with clever things to say, you don't even have to talk science. You just have to talk and meet people and the rest will follow. I know, it took me YEARS of self-training to get good at it, but it finally happened. I still find it exhausting, but it works 🙂 All the best to you!

  • Bashir says:

    Wow. Lots of stuff here. Basically I agree with Becca, way back in the first comment. I think there are a lot of misunderstandings of how networking could work for scientists. Particularly junior folks such as grads and postdocs. In fact just forget about the word Networking. Replace it with "TALK TO OTHER SCIENTISTS ABOUT SCIENCE STUFF". That's it really. Don't worry too much about the big cheeses. In many ways the middle and small cheese people are just as important.

    Have to disagree with PP's note to just publish stuff and people will talk to you. That doesn't work well for very junior people with relatively thin CVs. I didn't get my postdoc because my advisor had already read my paper. I got it because we talked science and I basically said "I'm looking for a postdoc, you should read my paper"

  • Jaime Derringer says:

    The key for me was to stop "networking" and start "making friends". Networking is a terrifying thing that people with money and suits do. Researchers, even Dr. FancyPants, are people - and more often than not, they're just as awkward as you. Get comfortable in the awkwardness. Wallow in it. Become totally unphasable. Laughing is a good method - keep smiling, and people will want you in their group (& by default, if post-poster-session dinner/drink plans get made, just being physically present in the group will get you an invitation. If it doesn't, lean in to the awkwardness and just say point-blank if you overhear group plans being made, "Oh, that sounds good! Mind if I join you?").

    My preferred approaches to new people are:

    1) just jump into a loud group discussion/argument about Hot New Method or politics (usually the topics I see loud open discussion happening for). No one's checking ID in the circle (especially if it's a group of 4+ arguing). Look like you belong, everyone will assume you know someone else in the group, almost immediately you're an accepted participant

    2) flattery for Dr. FancyPants ("Oh Dr. FancyPants, I'm sorry for interrupting, I just want to tell you how excited I was about your talk on Hot New Method or Finding"), at which point (in my experience) most Dr. FancyPants(s) worth their fancy pants will start talking about Hot New Method/Finding with (actually, more often at) you and whoever they were talking to before. If not, just keep smiling and move on.

    3) Use vices (if it's an option). Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, fatty/sugary foods - everyone loves them, and loves to talk about them ("I should really be taking decaf, conferences are terrible for my health!"..."We should do a study of how alcohol affects appreciation of Thing We All Agree Is Stupid But That Outsider Just Talked About Unironically"). I've also gotten a great response at receptions with passed hors d'oeuvres when I'm the person who can teach the grad students/postdocs how to get the best pick (hint: figure out where the waiters are emerging from, and stand by that door) - that's how you develop a crowd!

    4) Facebook is the academic Business Card (at least in my area). Every night of a conference, I make notes about who I met, what they look like (I'm terrible with names/faces), and any interesting info (what we talked about, if they're on the job market, etc.) and friend people when the conference is over. I make sure to follow colleagues on fb closely for work-related announcements (a like or "Congrats!" on any kind of self-promotional post keeps your name present in their mind) and for sources of common non-work interest ("I see you post tons of pictures of your cat. Here's a picture of my cat. CATS!!!"), and soon enough you've had enough virtual communication that starting a conversation at the next conference is much, much easier. I generally only go for formal email contact if I have a specific follow-up to provide (e.g., "Here's that paper I mentioned that I couldn't remember any of the details for." (this happens to me all the time), "You mentioned you're looking for a post-doc position - I thought you might be a good fit for this recent announcement from my department")

  • DJMH says:

    I'm surprised you have difficulty, because in my opinion the key component to "networking", ie making colleagues, is being CURIOUS. Which is, like, your middle name!

    When I am at a meeting, large or small, if I have a chance to talk with a PI/postdoc/grad student, even if I only kinda remember one of his recent papers, I can often remember a question I had about it. So that's one easy opening: "I was wondering if you thought Finding Blibby Blab would be applicable in Part of the Brain Blabby Blib? There are some interesting parallels but I don't know if anyone has looked into this." Sometimes you get, "You ought to read blah blah blah," but even that isn't bad, just say thanks and see if there's any other momentum to keep the conversation going.

    If you don't know the person's work, it's not at all rude to ask what they work on. Most of us are so happy someone might be interested.

    And if the science questions approach doesn't feel right at that moment (everyone's had a couple of beers already and the talk seems to have drifted), I've also had a lot of interesting conversations started with, "How do you like that department/city?" It is quasi-professional but not super-personal, and sometimes you get interesting tidbits. EG the PI I asked this of who immediately responded by talking about how great the postdocs and grad students were. It left the distinct impression that perhaps the faculty were not so fun...

  • Lots of good comments here already! I do know the feeling Sci, when you're at a conference and you kind of feel like in high school where all the cool kids are talking to each other and you're not one of them. I do agree with Dr Becca that it's not about talking to the hot shot PIs but also about talking to grad students and post docs. In the past couple of years I've met a lot of nice people that I tend to run into at conferences, and they'll introduce me to others and so on. So occasionally I'll be talking to a famous PI, but almost never intentionally.

  • gerty-z says:

    I know where you are coming from. When I was a wee postdoc, I realized I had joined a lab in a totally new field and my mentor wasn't much help with the "networking". He didn't go to meetings, didn't introduce me to seminar speakers, etc. Not because he didn't care, he just didn't notice. Here are some work-arounds that I found useful:

    1. piggyback onto someone else's advisor. I would sometimes discover that I was going to a meeting that PI down that hall was going to be at. I would ask before the meeting if they would introduce me to [big wig they know, too]. In other words: sometimes, "networking" starts at home.

    2. i can't agree more with the idea that you gotta forget about immediately crashing into Dr. BSD's click. Find people that are closer to where you are, career-wise, that you like and get to know them. I spend a lot of time hanging out with other postdocs, which was great when we were all on the job market and now that we are all n00b PI's. Sometimes this will help you meet BSD. I once was invited to dinner by a VERY Big Wig Prof who probably wouldn't have bothered to notice me, but I happened to be hanging out with her postdoc when they were making plans.

    3. Take advantage of lucky opportunities. Don't go around stalking folks. But sometimes you are going to accidentally end up walking down the hall after a talk and end up in line for the water with someone you would like to meet that happens randomly not to have a crowd. This is your time to start a conversation. I will sometimes just say "Hi! I saw you were in the xxx talk just now. I thought that their data showing [blah blah] was really interesting." or "I really enjoyed your talk, that is a really interesting result!" always end with "My name is Sci, I'm a postdoc w/ xx". Sometimes you will end up having a short conversation as you walk back down the hall. Sometimes they will grunt at you and turn away. But maybe they'll recognize you in the future, or remember you as a person that asked a question during the next session. Maybe you will immediately slip from their mind. But hey, you can't win if you don't play 🙂

    Don't set the expectations too high for networking! If you go to a meeting and talk to a few people that you didn't know, that is great! If you have a reason to follow up, then do. A quick email with just "hey, we talked about this at Meeting, thought you would like to see the paper" is great. Take the long view, and try to have fun.

  • Ewan says:

    I admit to being amused that someone with multiple high-visibility neuro blogs worries about this; the downside of pseudonymity, I guess.

    Folks above have mentioned that networking with peers now means a pre-existing network with stars of tomorrow; and aiming at smaller conferences (especially if you are *good* at whatever the non-conference stuff is: skiing, or speaking French, or..); but the reality is that in my case, the most productive current collaborations have both come from out-of-the-blue emails on my part ("Hey! I saw you do X; I do Y; want to combine them?") and networking did get me a postdoc, sort of (I gave a talk at SfN, chatted with someone from the audience afterward, and then later when postdoc 1 was about to crash-and-burn that audience-member-turned-acquaintance happened to be at my institution and suggested that I should talk to postdoc mentor 2) but played zero role in any of my faculty offers.

    So do I have anything to add other than 'no, really, sending unprompted emails works!'? Only that networking can be learnt. Almost every school has a debate team or public speaking team or some such; if you are genuinely shy, they have techniques to learn that do help. Second, that it can take time. A now-dear-friend was, first, an anonymous requester of a .pdf; then someone inviting me to a conference; then a tour guide when I visited her city; then a key supporter for a grant. Just keeping in touch with emails when you are *not* looking for something is a key piece.

    • scicurious says:

      Hah, have you ever TRIED walking up to a prof at a conference and saying "Hello, I have several high visibility neuro blogs?" The look on their face is PRICELESS. Kind of a mix of horror, fear, and profound disdain. 🙂

  • Alma Dzib Goodin says:


    I have met the best persons of my network talking, as part of debates or replying a comment. It's not important how many persons you have in your LiknedIn, it's who you have. If you feel Mrs. nobody, you will. But if you have something to say, say it, share it.

    • gerty-z says:

      Does ANYONE in the academic world actually use LinkedIn?

      • drugmonkey says:

        Sure. A fair number in my subfield have accounts.

        One peculiar thing is that I occasionally get requests from more jr folks that I don't know. They have no context, typically, so I decline. I wonder what they are trying to accomplish and whether this is a reflection of kids these days with their bajillion Facebook "friends" and whatnot.

        • scicurious says:

          Actually, I'll bet that those people have been to a seminar on "NETWORKING! Let us maximize your LinkedIn potential!" and have been told to try and contact people who they WANT to make contacts with, like potential postdocs or mentors. The idea being that everyone is on LinkedIn now and cares about this crap. I was told this. I promptly discarded it as truly bad advice.

          This is another sign that Networking seminars are run almost entirely by business and marketing people.

        • katiesci says:

          I know a lot of people that "have accounts" but does anyone actually use it for anything useful?

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    Although PP's definition is narrow, it is largely spot on. When people begin to see you as someone who is making meaningful contributions to a field, the networking will grow exponentially. Soon you won't be able to get people off of your jock.

    As someone whose jock is covered, I can attest to this.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    Addendum: People who want to meet you becuase they think they should be meeting you but have nothing other to say other than "Wow, you're super great!" are obnoxious and forgettable.

  • [...] has a post at Scientopia up about feeling as though her networking prowess is not up to [...]

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Props to the SWE (Society of Women Engineers.) I don't qualify for membership but know a few people in it and they (at least the people who attend ISSCC) appear to have active mentoring/sponsorship programs where those who HAVE connections spend time going around introducing those who don't.

    Of course, there's no way anyone with the cognitive powers of a sponge could miss the hideously stacked deck in that field. Maybe that makes it harder to pretend that programs like that aren't needed or something. IMHO it's needed all around, men as well as women, but from observation the XY subset seem to have functioning substitutes (even if I missed the membership meeting.)

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    Ping, dude

  • Ed Yong says:

    I HATE networking. HATE it. I'm the guy who does a lap of the room, nervously doesn't say anything to any one, then pretends like I was really headed straight to the table where the wine lives so I can grab a glass, which I down.

    Right, that being said, here are some thoughts:

    1) Networking is just talking to people, in the hope that you'll get something good out of it. If you go into it with that in mind, you will suck. I know this, because people have done it to me, and it is abundantly clear that they want something, and are about to suck. So focus on the first bit - the talking to people bit - and if the rest of it happens, it happens. Just be personable and interested.

    2) It's easier as a reporter. Went to a conference and accosted speakers after their talk to ask them questions. I would NEVER have done that years ago, but now, I have a legitimate reason to and it's, like, my job. But of course, it doesn't need to be my job. I could just have a question.

    3) Don't get upset if someone brushes you off. This has happened to me lots. I'm damn sure I've done it to other people. Everyone else is trying to meet other people too.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for posting this. There is some great advice in the comments and I am definitely bookmarking this.

  • Pharm Sci Grad says:

    Got some advice at a career panel not that long ago and one of the speaker said, "Why don't you just send a short (ie: two, three sentence) email to the corresponding author of a paper you've read and is in your field/interesting/important/whatever - and ask them if they would have some time to chat with you about it over the phone. We love to talk about our science. So we call, we chat, you send a follow up email, thanking us for the chat, and boom, you have a contact. Now, we've talked, so maybe before the next meeting, you will send another email seeing if we will be there so that we could chat over coffee about science."

    I think the most important point the speaker wanted to drive home was that you don't need to rely on your boss to make these contacts for you. Sure, that's easier. Wouldn't we all love that. It'd be great. But there's nothing stopping any of us from contacting people about science. Will we get blown off some of the time - sure. So will our PIs. People's jock straps are covered. That's just the k3rn effect.

    But the best time to network is when you don't need anything from your network. When you are just meeting people to meet people. Enjoy that process of meeting cool people who do awesome science - it should be fun!

  • [...] for the littles March 29, 2012 Networking. (Some current posts on the subject from Scicurious and [...]

  • [...] today in what I can only imagine is now a record-breaking post by Scicurious: her musings on the challenges of networking. If you haven't yet stopped by, I highly recommend you do--great issues raised, and fantastic [...]

  • Jason G. Goldman says:

    Right, what Ed said. I think genuine conversation begets "networking." and, I'll also second the part about it being easier as a writer. I've leveraged blogging as a means to get to know people, to good effect, such as by interviewing them (even if I don't end up writing something that quotes them). After the ice is broken, so to speak, engaging them again for more conversation later or another day or by email becomes tremendously easier, in my experience.

  • C says:

    Getting in front of someone is the hard part, but once you have someone's attention, the only thing you need to remember is that people LOVE to talk about themselves. I agree with DJMH that asking more general, not-too-personal questions is best (at least as an opener) in a networking environment. I'm not a scientist, but in my profession, we don't always want to talk about work, even if we love it.

    Also I hope reading the comments has shown you that you're far from being the only one in the room who feels the way you do. Chances are whomever you approach is also caught up in their own worries about how they're going to get through the networking part of the program. I think networking is about helping draw other people out of their own heads.

  • [...] evaluating them. It’s what a good journal club teaches you. Also, this is one place where networking is really helpful, especially for young scientists, who have more to lose by making the wrong [...]

  • pyrope says:

    I am terrible at walking up to people I've never met, but I had a pretty good run through grad school of pre-arranging meetings with folks that I wanted to meet (Tuesday for coffee kind of meetings) at conferences. I usually got one or two per conference - but, I was also pretty careful to focus on people who were close enough to my work so that I had something to share that they might be interested in. The plus of the pre-arranged meeting is that they might actually take the time to figure out who you are...which is more memorable than a random, awkward meeting.
    The other plus is that it allows for plenty of prep time, which works way better for me than trying to be clever on my feet.

  • HennaHonu says:

    I'm pretty late to the party, but am hoping a few people are still around. What if you don't drink? At my last conference, I had a fabulous time at the conference banquet, but was really awkward and uncomfortable going out at night with people I didn't know well. I'm not as relaxed around the general inebriated public and ended up making a terrible impression. I hate beer and don't really drink much of anything, so it's hard to find situations in the evenings in which to interact with people. It seems like a lot of the unstructured social activities at small conferences are based on alcohol consumption.

    • scicurious says:

      Agree that this can be an issue. At times when I didn't want to drink, I would get a seltzer water with lime or something so it looked ok. But it does get hard as everyone gets happier and you don't...advice anyone?

      • Megan says:

        I had a prof. in grad school who was really good about getting us all on the networking train. Her main thing was 'I hate networking, but it's part of my job, so I do it. Just like I do all the other parts of my job.' She didn't find it comfortable, but she put up with the awkwardness because it was a necessary part of the career. That being said, she also had clear 'don't get smashed' rules. 1-2 drinks for the evening. You're at a professional event with people you don't know well and you don't want to make an ass of yourself and ruin your reputation. So I think drinking a coke is just fine. Most people don't care if you say 'no thanks' when offered a beer - if you don't make a big thing out of it, they won't either. The point is that you are participating in the conversation and socializing. You may not like bars, but if that's where the engagement is happening, then just look at it as part of your job and spend 2 hours there then go home. I also do some fine networking around the coffee pot in the morning - there's usually someone who is hungover and happy for company.

    • Blake Stacey says:

      If you're feeling awkward and uncomfortable, you probably won't make yourself more comfortable by drinking. There's no point in feeling out-of-place and intoxicated. I've been in a fair number of hotel bars at a variety of conferences, and nobody has minded when I've had a ginger ale or a diet cola instead of a beer.

    • barefootwriter says:

      Sounds like you just don't like being around drunk people. If that's the case, why not go but set a curfew? Folks aren't going to get that drunk in the first couple hours -- at least I hope they wouldn't.

      No doubt there are others abstaining as well -- for similar reasons, or to be someone's designated driver. They shouldn't be hard to find, and they'd probably welcome some sober company.

    • Bashir says:

      Many friends of mine don't drink. They fall somewhere a long the continuum of "doesn't drink but is perfectly fine just having and soda" and "doesn't drink or be around others who are drinking". Sounds like you are uncomfortable around people who are drinking?(correct me if wrong). I'm not sure what can be done. Hopefully most outings wouldn't involve everyone getting DRUNK. If you are unforgettable with just when folks have a beer or two, then I'm not sure what can be done. The last outing I was a apart of was a big diner. Many people didn't drink. Many had a drink or two. That seems more common that folks going out and getting hammered. If that scenario is ok with you then you're probably fine.

  • Dirkh says:

    Most people in that environment don't give a hoot, and hardly notice, whether you're drinking or not, as long as they are allowed to imbibe. I'm partial to cranberry juice and fizzy water.

  • WJP says:

    Just wanted to echo a couple of things that have been brought up by others that reflect my experience at meetings and with 'networking'.

    1. Aim to have genuine interactions with other people without worrying specifically about what you stand to gain from knowing them. Overly strategic people (the ones that hover around Dr. Fancy Pants) are not necessarily effective or memorable. Some of the best interactions I've had at meetings, that have led to collaborations, papers, or just collegial friendships, have come from the casual and honest interactions in the coffee line, or by saying hi to the person sitting next to you while waiting for a talk to start, etc.

    2. That being said, if you have a reason to talk to DFP, then don't hesitate when you have the opportunity to introduce yourself ("Hi, Dr. FP, my name is X and I work on Y, and wanted to ask you about that thing Z you mentioned in your talk if you have a minute."). The whole reason why we go to conferences is to exchange information with others who are thinking about similar problems. Sure there are a few egotistical jerks out there, but don't let them get you down.

    3. Be friendly and don't be afraid to express your enthusiasm for the subject. Even if you're introverted and shy, when you have the opportunity to talk to someone (posters are a great example), be courteous and friendly in manner, tell them what you genuinely like about their work and then ask your question. I realize some scientists are lacking in the basic skills of "how to be a decent human", but you don't have to be one of them.

    4. When hunting for a postdoc or looking to talk to different PI's about opportunities in their groups, email them in advance asking if they might have time to chat with you at the upcoming conference (suggest meeting over coffee, etc.). The email will give you more time to craft what you want to say and explain why you'd like to meet, which might otherwise head off the awkwardness described above. Even if they are too busy to meet with you, or aren't at the conference for long, you will have effectively introduced yourself and established that you're interested in their work. When I was looking for a postdoc, I arranged a bunch of short (~15 min) meetings with different PI's I was interested in because of our overlap in research, and had good conversations with each because I had already set the stage for what I wanted to talk about (developing a postdoc fellowship application with them, etc.).

  • Violet in Twilight says:

    I hate networking too - particularly as it is described in the "networking" seminars and such. Most of my contacts are with other grad students and post-docs and I love being a "node".

    There is a lot of interesting and good advice in the comments above. I might pick up some and try to apply in the upcoming conferences.

    That said, some of my networking opportunities happened when I was in charge of my departmental seminars. It gives you a good purpose to get in touch with lot of high-ranking people and keep up their contacts. Organizing invited talks gets to you to have a lot of face time with talk-giving person.

    Also, I agree that conferences are mainly an opportunity to connect a person with an on-going email/virtual exchange about mutually interesting research. It is much more difficult to start "cold-call" in person. So, do the "cold-call" by email once there is an tentative conference program is out. Then, there is more to talk about and continue the conversation in person during the conference.

  • Altajax says:

    I am also a bit late to the conversation but I thought I would offer a few points from my experiences.

    In terms of going elsewhere to give talks, anytime I go on vacation or home to visit family, I try to look up the local universities that do research related to mine. I often times ask my boss if he know anyone there such that I could drop his name in an email. Then I email that person saying, hey I am in such and such's lab doing work on (1 sentence). I will be in town X on this date, and was wondering if I could get a tour of your lab and possibly meet. If appropriate I would be happy to give a talk. So far this has worked for me half the time I have tried. While this is kinda like giving up a vacation day, I consider it work so I tend to try to take an extra day. I have even started planning some of my vacations around locations I might want to move to next to try to network there.

    Next, ask your advisor if you can go to a specific/small conference. Like many have said, these are great for meeting people. If funding is an issue, there are lots of funding mechanisms that you can apply for yourself. These can be travel awards through the conference, awards or even just money through your department or university (sometimes you just need to ask for it), through funding agencies, etc. An advisor is much more likely to be willing to send you if you show an initiative to secure your own funding as well. Plus, these awards are often merit based, and then your merit can promote your networking!

  • Rellim says:

    There’s more to networking than LinkedIn...

    I think a network is like nostalgia: something that develops over time and can’t be forced. I’m now finishing my first post-doc, and have found that my network (of people that I know, that I’ve worked with, that I’ve interacted with in some capacity) has naturally grown as I’ve moved from place to place. Suddenly I pick up journals and see the names of people that I know publishing articles and reviews. And this is really cool!

    In terms of actively doing things to build your network, I’d just make an effort to talk to people, at all career stages (not just the big guys) and to be friendly and helpful to everyone you come across. Conferences are great, but a lot of my useful connections have come from the guy down the hall that I lent an antibody to, the group leader with the office behind me who I chat to in about the best places to eat in the city I’m visiting... They all know people and I can then call upon that wider network for advice and to find connections with people I’m interested in. I also make a point to talk to visiting speakers if I have the chance.

    At conferences I set a target of a minimum number of people to talk to each day, and bring up stupid things like the food or where they're from. Find the person looking as lost as you feel, and talk to them! I also make an effort to draw people into conversations (if I’m talking to one person and someone else is near-by I’ll bring them in, or introduce people I’ve met with something in common). If you don’t have an immediate goal in talking to someone (like wanting to apply to their lab, or promoting your latest paper), what you want to do is get your face known and build up a series of interactions that you can then draw on when you need to. It is scary, but meeting scientists should be fun - after all you both like science, right?

    Maybe you should do a second blog post asking people how they've used their networks and what the pay-off was?

  • [...] Scicurious asks a question about “networking” at scientific conferences: [...]

  • Neurostyle says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post! I found it true and honest and often I felt that. Science is more like Dr. Jekyll (experiments, thinking, planning, reading etc etc) and Mr. Hide (politic and politically/smily correct behavior). Science is more like the "do ut des" principle...and this can be scarry.
    Sometimes I think it can be frustrating thinking that your success could depend on who is sitting next to you...

  • [...] last week, Scicurious wrote a great entry on networking and how she dislikes it and how some of the big ass profs are unapproachable at conferences and [...]

  • deevybee says:

    I’m a successful female scientist aged 60 and I found this post and the associated comments deeply depressing. This may be a particularly British perspective, but the thought of people contriving to talk to ‘bigwigs’ in order to further their careers seems totally pointless. I was fortunate to grow up in an era before ‘networking’ was invented. My career benefitted from two things: (a) presenting my work at conferences, encouraged by my doctoral supervisor, and also as a member of a friendly national society that holds regular meetings; (b) publishing papers. The UK is also small enough that there are also opportunities to give seminars in university departments, and that was a good way of getting to know people in my field. Like some of the other more senior commentators on this post, I would not recommend engineering a conversation with a senior person at a conference in order to deliver an elevator pitch and thrust a card into their hand. I am frankly puzzled by what I'm supposed to do with the card: if I want to find out someone's contact details, I'll Google them. I’m perfectly prepared to be friendly to anyone I meet at a conference who has common interests, but if I’m thinking of employing someone, or evaluating their paper or grant proposal, the only criterion that matters is whether they are good at science. Seeing someone give a great talk - and deal with the questions afterwards - or reading a nice paper that they’ve authored is what will sway me. Interested also in your comments re blogging. I think your blog is fabulous and If you were in my area, it’d be a definite plus that you do this. All else being equal, the blogging would give you an edge over other candidates. But my bottom line is, forget all the networking rubbish. The thought of all those conference attendees nervously wondering how to maximise opportunities for self-promotion is just sad. If you go to a conference, go to interesting papers and have fun with like-minded people. Go to bed early and sober if that’s what you want to do - you’re really not missing anything all that crucial. If you get a chance to discuss a talk or poster with the presenter, great, but do so because you want to talk science, not because you’re trying to impress someone.

  • [...] directed at our trainees and junior faculty. Those of us on the panel all agreed that networking (there's that word again) was why we paid for attendance. You never know who may be important in reviewing your work or [...]

  • [...] at scientific conferences. I guess I thought it was obvious, but perusing the comments over at the original post by Scicurious made me realize that it’s not. Perhaps because “networking” seems [...]

  • [...] of networking, partly because of having read some posts & comments on the topic recently (e.g. this one by Scicurious). But having to give a 20-min talk to a smaller audience (~70 or so) on the first day (pre-main [...]

  • [...] (this apparent holy grail of conference achievements for students is also often perceived as incredibly difficult to do). First, let’s replace the terrifying word “networking” with the [...]

  • Acetyle says:

    As with Dr. Becca since I am no one in particular. And this might already been said. How I now think about networking, is talk to everyone, including that coffee line person. Because if they aren't Dr. Famous now, who know who they will be down the road. Or how they can help you later. My main thing is never turn down work or a favor. Sure, I might be overwhelmed when I have to get that project for the other person done, but that joint project will hopefully endear me and they will tell their friends too.

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