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Goals for Networking at a Conference

June 16th, 2014
The following entry is from Jason’s personal site jasonmcsheene.com, written as a follow-up to Episode 9 of the PhD in Progress Podcast.
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I am not naturally a very outgoing person. However, that does not negate one important thing I learned: it is important to put on a good game face, be social, and talk with as many people as possible (i.e. NETWORK!).Ep009_card

This week I will step out of my comfort zone by attending the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) conference in Washington D.C. I will not know anybody there and the field of artificial internal organs is brand new to me, as I have no direct experience in it . So why even go? 

  1. Comfort is the enemy of progress. This is a perfect opportunity to push those boundaries and grow. As mentioned before, going to the ASAIO meeting will force me out of my comfort zone. It is easy to go to a meeting with a bunch of your co-workers and close yourself off to new experiences. Instead of doing this, I encourage everyone to keep themselves open to communication.Go to the talks that might not directly relate to your work but sound interesting to you. Ask a “stupid” question. Talk to that person who seems intimidating.
  2. The conference is the perfect venue for learning! What is the current state of various technologies? Where is research and production being performed? Who is on the cutting edge? How can I position myself for entry into the field?
  3. Networking. If you listened to Episode 9 of the PhD in Progress podcast, you understand the importance of networking. Because I’m in the process of career exploration, meeting new people and learning about their career paths is vital. It will help me understand what some companies expect and how I can better augment my skills and experience.

With all of this, it’s also important to set goals and expectations. It would be a huge mistake to wander around for a few days just expecting to get the most out of the experience. So here is what I hope to accomplish at this meeting:

  1. Identify current research. Obviously, I will going to each talk session and poster session in order to learn more about the field. It is entirely possible that my future work will be related to something I hear at the conference.I will learn about 20 technologies in-depth and develop follow-up questions for each.
  2. Introduce myself to everyone. Alright, not every single person, but I should not be sitting quietly by myself for more than a few minutes. This, without a doubt, will be the most beneficial yet draining goal. I want to hear about what people think, what they do, and what their own goals are. By initiating conversation, I’ll create opportunities for learning, teaching, and helping. Plus I might have a few new friends to enjoy a drink with at the end of the night.Besides, interacting with hardly anyone for 3-5 days is never fun. I did that at a meeting in Montreal once. Never again!I will start a conversation within the first 2 minutes of down time.
  3. Investigate the companies/institutions doing the work. At the end of the week, I want to know the major players involved in bioengineering of biological tissues. I should be familiar with the companies, understand their products and/or services, and have the contact information people who work in R&D there. While I am doing this for my own career search, it should be a goal of anyone trying to improve their position within a field of choice.I will be very active at poster sessions and networking events by asking about the research itself, the employees, and the companies.

The key for me is that people universally want to feel valued, helpful, and interesting. Additionally, people do not want to be bored, unimportant, or invisible. By initiating conversation, you give someone the chance to fulfill all of those needs and quench those concerns.