On Networking: A rant.

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.

I have no answers for this. When I was in grad school, I went to a conference or two with my prof, and he was really bad at introducing me/us to people he knew. He was just starting out, so I couldn’t drop his name when I was at a conference alone — few people knew him. So I really developed no contacts in grad school. I, too, felt the awkwardness of trying to introduce myself (and try not to forget that now that I’m in a more senior situation). My best progress was made at conferences where I gave a talk, because there were a few people who would come up to me afterwards to discuss details, and you have an excuse to talk to others who spoke in the same session, because they are now quite likely to know who you are and should be working in similar fields if you are speaking in the same session.

In my current job, there was a deliberate attempt to have me give talks at conferences when I first started, to give me exposure, and so that people would identify me as being with our group. That’s part of a much better atmosphere of having colleagues who introduce me to people they know.

There’s also part of networking where the people come to you — lab visits and seminars/colloquia, where you can have your professor make the introductions. Once you’ve done that, the second meeting (perhaps at a conference) is easier, since you can mention that you’ve already met and remind them of the circumstances. Even if they don’t remember, you’ve still gotten yourself into a conversation.