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A researcher’s guide to networking at academic conferences

Being a great scholar doesn’t always mean that you will be a great networker. Academic conferences can be extremely hectic and make you feel alienated and nervous. Despite how it may seem, many of the attendees feel the same way. It takes courage to step outside of your comfort zone and establish connections. Even if you aren’t a natural at networking, taking the proper steps can help you feel confident and prepared when the times comes for you to talk about your research.

Be confident

Easier said than done, right? But don’t forget that by presenting or displaying your research you are bringing  something of value to the table. Your work is important. Your attendance at the conference in itself demonstrates that you are a legitimate and serious scholar. Don’t be shy about sharing the work that you are so passionate about. This way, you can get feedback and questions from your peers that will hopefully help you to take your research to
 the next level. 

Identify who you want to meet in advance and schedule it

Do a little bit of homework by checking out the conference program, and try to schedule times in which you could go check out panels or talks. The key is being productive with your time after identifying those who are most likely to be beneficial to your work. To be more efficient, see if you can contact the most relevant attendees before you even get to the conference. That way, the introduction in person can go more smoothly.

Be open-minded

At the same time, you should stay open to meeting people from different fields. Ideas, feedback and critiques can come from the most unexpected places. You may discover that researchers from other fields have a different perspective on what you’re working on or have suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of.

Use social media

Twitter is a hugely useful tool for conferences. Follow the conference account and look for the conference hashtag. Search for other people attending who could be relevant for you to meet. Sending a tweet or a direct message is a fast and effective way to schedule a quick coffee and grow your network. Sharing insights from the conference on Twitter can build your reputation and raise your profile so other attendees can discover you and get in touch.  

Develop an elevator pitch

The attendees of the conference will be on a tight schedule, so it’s important to make your appeal within a short time frame, in hopes that it can lead to a longer, more meaningful discussion. Draft an elevator pitch, in which you can introduce who you are, what institution you’re from, what you do, plus whatever else that might intrigue the other party. Ask your peers for feedback, and try to have a solid “elevator pitch” by the time you attend the conference.

Prepare questions, prepare answers

You may only have limited time to ask questions. Thus, after you’ve identified who you want to speak with at the conference, be sure to prepare the questions you’d like answered, and simultaneously, be prepared to answer possible questions from people who might be interested in your work. Appearing prepared will make you seem more confident and credible.

Bring business cards

Conferences can be a hectic place. You’ll be meeting a lot of people, and to them, you will be just one person that they’ve met during the entirety of the conference. That’s why it’s a good idea to exchange business cards, or even phone numbers, in case you want to continue a conversation after the conference. Ask for business cards as well and, to ensure you remember who’s who, write a short note about them, their research, or any topics you wanted to discuss further on their cards. Make sure to follow-up with anyone you had a particularly interesting conversation with via email to thank them for their time.

Image credit: Nic MacMillan