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Build Your Professional Image When You Attend a Conference
6. Network – think of it as “academic service networking.”
If you consider that your networking purpose is to help others – you will be far more remembered and contacted later than if you spend all your time talking about yourself.
If you think of research as being of service to others, networking can be re-framed as a pleasure. It then means talking to people about their research, offering to send them references that you think may relate to their work – and being generally interested in and helpful to others.
You’re not networking only into established networks of famous academics, you’re also connecting down the social ladder and establishing your own network. Taking younger students under your wing (small as it may be), will earn you thanks, trust and credibility that you can’t get any other way.
7. Before you arrive and while you’re at the conference, ask questions.
Use the opportunity to find the recent trends in the field and the funding situation, especially if you’re just starting in grad school. Most likely, some research areas are hot and others are cold. Know the difference before you decide on your thesis or dissertation topic.
Find out where your school stands in the pecking order of the discipline. What’s the competition like for academic jobs when you graduate? What do people in the field do outside of academics?
If non-academics attend the annual conference, how can you find them to ask questions? You may want to stay in touch with them if you’re planning for future non-academic work. Your world may be constrained back in grad school and these contacts may represent a lifeline, or at least another perspective of life beyond the walls of academe.
If you haven’t yet, try to discover your discipline’s place in the universe. Get an idea of your own relative place in the pecking order too (and check again at next year’s conference – seeing progress is its own reward).
8. Socialize with your peers from other geographic areas.
They may be your future colleagues and competitors for academic jobs. Find out what they’re doing in the field and be aware of the potential for collaboration, especially with the ones who “click” with you.
Even if some of these individuals may be potential competitors, get to know them because you can’t contrast your own strengths with theirs if you don’t know them.
9. Set a goal of meeting at least 10 new people.
It’s a natural urge to hang around with familiar faces, but conferences are held to find out what colleagues are doing and to have a chance to discuss and exchange ideas. The more people you know (who are doing work you’re interested in), the more potential there is to publish joint papers with them. When you see that potential, suggest a collaboration.
This point is even more important for those looking to work beyond traditional academics, and in fields emphasizing cross-disciplinary work. Both industry and cross-disciplinary grantors look for a track record in teamwork, a trait that academics have generally not emphasized.
10. Have a good time.
Conferences are part of your professional work, but being able to combine pleasure with the focus makes the work itself more pleasurable. And you may be able to develop relationships with geographically distant researchers that will be both productive and pleasurable for many years.
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I often make it through the networking steps, but then find that it’s difficult to keep up the network once it’s begun, especially with people outside of my daily routine. There are lots of people that I like, get along with, and want to keep in touch with, but very few that actually want to have email conversations deep enough to keep up a working relationship. So, once you’ve made the contact, how do you keep in touch, and help others keep in touch with you?