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?