Thursday, September 18, 2014

Academic Conference Networking Tips

There's a nice article on networking at scientific conferences over at Cheeky Scientist. The best point of advice, which I unfortunately learned the hard way:
1. Skip the scientific talks.
You love science. I get it. Science is why we all went to graduate school. But you shouldn’t go to a conference to learn the science. Not if you want to get an industry job. ... Everything in the talk is either published or in an abstract in the conference booklet. Plus, you can always seek out the conference speakers (or their posters) later.
Point taken.  If you're watching presentations, you're not meeting anyone new.  Conferences are not about taking supercharged doses of PowerPoint slides over three days; Conferences are about conferring with people.

As I found out through experience, my best contacts were always made when I walked out of talks that didn't interest me or were just plain boring and tried to find people I wanted to talk to.  If you happen to run into someone walking out of the same talk, you at least have something common to start a conversation with.

Skipping conference talks brings me to a digression about how departments dole out travel funds for students.  Some places require students to return to headquarters and give a 'conference presentation', usually intended to inform people back home of interesting news from the conference.

If this applies to you, try to balance your news-gathering efforts with networking efforts.  You're not obligated to attend every single talk, and if you come back and bring people up to speed with 'what was hot' at the conference, you've probably done your job.