29-Mar-11, 10:38
edited about 13 seconds later
Avatar for SarahLouise
posted about 9 years ago
Hi all

I am due to go to a very big conference soon which is the largest meeting of academics in my field. I am going alone and I am terrified. I am useless at networking and find the whole wandering around trying to find people to talk to situation so painful. I also don't know if that many PhD students go either. It is over 5 days and I am so stressed about it all. Does anyone have any advice how to network well at these sorts of events? I can't sleep for stressing about it all!

A very stressed Sarah
29-Mar-11, 11:32
by olivia
Avatar for olivia
posted about 9 years ago
======= Date Modified 29 Mar 2011 11:34:18 =======
Does the conference offer some social breaks, ie coffee, or tea or whatever? Networking is as simple as simply making very casual talk with someone over shared interests, and many, if not most people at the conference likely feel like you do--dreading but feeling like they must circulate and network.

Whilst great networking at events can occur, in my own experience, this is the exception rather than the rule.

I would suggest approaching the speaker of a presentation after the talk has wound down, and pay a sincere compliment ( if you liked the presentation of course) and say it was interesting, you enjoyed it, or you really learned some new insights--whatever would be the case.

Or look around at who is attending what sessions and maybe approach one of them, or a group of them and ask where they are from, what their research interests are, etc, how are they enjoying the conference...

I have been to zillions of conferences and find that the networking payout is never what you are lead to believe ( and this is not from being a bad networker, well, at least I think not...). I usually collect a clutch of cards and emails and rarely do they amount to follow ups, although a nice exception this week was someone who emailed me notice of a call for papers I am really interested in..

My advise...just relax. Don't put pressure on yourself to have to network and socialise. Just try to get information, relax and enjoy it.

People are generally friendly and approachable at conferences and you might make a conference buddy to hang out with, especially over five days.

And PS--I will confess that sometimes I flee from the socialising at these events--it can be so much work to make small talk with strangers, and repeat the same sort of inane things over and over. Sometimes I flee back to my hotel room and enjoy some solitude instead! :$
29-Mar-11, 11:44
by ady
Avatar for ady
posted about 9 years ago
I agree with Olivia's approach and having just read her edit, agree with that too! I'm not hectic at networking but you'll probably find, over the course of your PhD that you actually have 'networked' more than you realise. However, it might be at the conference after this one, or even the next where you reap the benefits. You will find over the course of your PhD that the same people keep bobbing up at conferences and over time you will get to know some of them.

People generally respond to praise so consider complimenting somebody on their paper can often be a good 'in' to the conversation. Lots of attendees know each other so it can be difficult to muscle (!) your way into a conversation but if possible, try to let it happen naturally. Practice your PhD elevator pitch so at least you won't be stumped when somebody casually asks you "so what is your research about?"

To be honest with four children and therefore a busy life, I love the solitude of a conference hotel room and therefore don't network enough. I find my mind wandering during some of the papers thinking "right, so later I'll have a bath, then get room service, then read my book or watch a film..." You are young - don't do that!

Conferences can be really enjoyable but the tea and coffee bit can be stressful all right. Often there is a conference dinner or evening event and from a networking angle, or really as an opportunity to get to know people going to those things is usually a good idea. Networking is over-rated as an art and sometimes very obvious networkers are cringe inducing or maybe that's because I'm not very good at it ;-)

29-Mar-11, 11:56
by olivia
Avatar for olivia
posted about 9 years ago
*grinning at Ady's post*
Oh, another person with a wandering mind during papers...!
Okay, my full confession about conferences :$

They are hideously boring for the most part. I have a bad attention span for sitting and listening so a lot of this is just a lack on my part. I fidget horribly even sitting in the cinema or watching some sporting event--I hate to just sit. And conferences are lots of sitting and listening...and let's face it, many conference paper presentations are about as interesting as watching paint dry. For me the worst ones are where you are read to. :$

So I see conferences as sort of a necessary evil...but they can be sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo boring.

There have been some noteable exceptions that have been fantastic, but these have mostly been small and specially organised in a topic that is sort of fringe to mainstream research with very avante garde and counter culture types of researchers who are not full of themselves and have a good time.

Over time--I have become very unenchanted with conferences--but I live in hope that each one will be worthwhile and not dreadful.
29-Mar-11, 13:26
edited about 25 seconds later
Avatar for Keenbean
posted about 9 years ago
Hey Sarahlouise! It's really hard to network at these things if you're a 'mere' PhD student! I went to a huge 5-day conference in the states last year, and I really really enjoyed myself (not just down to the conference- but it was in a really cool place with loads to see!) and am going back again this year. However, last year I went with 4 colleagues (all senior to me) and to be honest it was really just the professors rubbing noses and sharing/collaborating on research ideas and possible joint grants etc. The rest of us pretty much just did our own thing- the prof did introduce us to all these other profs, but they were only really interested in our prof.

One thing that is slightly less awkward is to chat to people doing poster presentations- that way you have something to talk about and it's less awkward because there's no audience etc. There might also be special interest groups or a special student group, so have a good look at your programme.

The thing that I have so far found best for networking is organising a symposium for this year's conference. It's not really the done thing for a student to put a symposium together at such a large event but my supervisor disappeared abroad somewhere about 3 days before the deadline and told me I'd have to sort it out if I wanted a symposium. It was very stressful (mostly because we'd left it so last minute) but it did involve a lot of personal communications with top academics in the field, so it does get your name round a bit (although I had to name-drop my sup heavily to get them interested!). Although some of them aren't attending this year and others were too overloaded to accept the invitation, we did exchange information about what we were doing and about the possibility of meeting up while we're there. And after a lot of perseverence I managed to get 4 other academics in on the symposium (my sup plus three professors from the states) so have got to know them and their work, and obviously we will be seeing each other at the conference. I am hoping that that might be beneficial in some way....but it might turn out not to be!

I would just prioritise the presentations you are interested in, and make the most out of it that way. If you feel confident and really enjoy a presentation then go up and have a chat to them afterwards, or you could always just sit next to someone who's sitting on their own and satrike up a conversation, although I have to admit, when someone does this to me I can't always be bothered with it! Above all, avoid conference dinners! I can never wait to get away from those things!

Good luck- just enjoy yourself! KB
30-Mar-11, 11:48
Avatar for SarahLouise
posted about 9 years ago
Thank you for the replies everyone, it's good to know not everyone spends every second networking and making small talk! There are some sessions I plan to go to so will hopefully meet some people in the same area of research that way. Hopefully I won't make an utter fool out of myself by saying something stupid but I'm not betting on it! :)
30-Mar-11, 20:23
edited about 26 seconds later
by LBaines
Avatar for LBaines VIP
posted about 9 years ago
Olivia's right - it's good to find some alone time to have time to gather your thoughts and ideas.


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