Networking at conferences
Conferences are the main way in which the academic community interacts. They are designed to act as networking opportunities and most people will say that this is the reason that they attend conferences. Your career is as likely to be advanced by sitting next to the right person at a conference dinner as it is through giving a brilliant paper, so give some thought to how you use conferences as networking opportunities.
Before the conference
- Always look out for appropriate conferences to attend
- When you choose conferences to go to, think about what networking opportunities they will present
- Try and give a paper wherever possible, but consider attending conferences where you aren't giving a paper
- Be ambitious and volunteer/apply to organise panels or even entire conferences. This will really put you at the centre of a network
- Look at the list of attendees or speakers beforehandand identify key researchers that you should meet.
In the formal sessions
- Look attentive and interested, even if you are bored or tired
- Ask questions, particularly ones which draw on some of your own research
- Avoid being negative about someone's research
- Identify people who you want to speak to later/in more depth
- Maybe miss some formal sessions to give you some time to relax.
Outside the formal sessions
- Always stay in the conference hotel and attend conference meals
- Don't spend your entire social time with people from your department - consider going on your own, to force you to socialise.
- Talk to people you already know to build up relationships with existing contacts
- Talk to people you don't know to make new ones, target those on your key researchers list
- Ask people questions about their work. ‘I thought your paper was really interesting, have you thought about...?'
- Be human. Don't talk about your research all night long - gossip, talk about the food or the football and share hobbies, but don't get excessively drunk
- Pass on your contact details to everyone you meet.
After the conference
- Follow up any contacts with an email: ‘It was really nice to meet you at...'
- Keep a record of who you met and what they do
- Consider using social networks (e.g. LinkedIn) to keep in touch with contacts that use it
- Remember that networks are built up gradually.
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