Making Connections at A Scientific Meeting or Conference

If you have been following our career development calendar on the blog, you know April is the time to plan your 2012 meeting or conference attendance.  If you are relatively new to this experience you should watch our web tutorial on attending a scientific meeting.  Whether this is your first or fiftieth conference you probably are prepared for science, science and more science.  And while the science is the main reason your boss is sending you, it should not be the ONLY reason you are going.  Conferences and meetings are great places to build your network and expand your connections.  However, it doesn’t just happen.  Here are a few tips to help you build a strong network at a conference.

Before the meeting:

  • Make a list of the people you want to connect with.  There are certainly science people you want to meet, but be sure to think about making career connections. If you want to go into industry, you need to look for people in industry.  If you want to work in a specific region or city, look for people from those locales.   Make sure there are at least 5 new people on this list. 
    • Go through the conference guide and highlight the names of people you would like to meet, your boss may be useful in helping you identify people of interest.
    • Set up meetings before hand with with those you have met before and want to see again.
    • Ask your adviser and others who are also attending the conference to introduce you to people they know.

  • If your colleagues are not going to the conference, ask them if you can use their name to introduce yourself.  A classic introduction line:  “Dr. X, my mentor NAME asked me to say ‘Hello’ and introduce myself.”
  • Of course, make sure you have plenty of business cards with your latest title, telephone number, and e-mail address.

During the meeting:

  • Take notes.  Yes, take notes on the science.  But, have a separate place to take notes about people you meet.  You will meet a lot of people and keeping their names and stories all straight can be difficult.  You can use your notes for following up after the meeting.
  • Seek out the people you identified prior to the conference.  Introduce yourself.  Do not be afraid to ask them to meet you later for coffee or a meal.  If you end up eating in a large group, ask to exchange business cards.  Make notes on the back to help keep the names and people straight.
  • Talk about your research and career interests often via your “elevator,” “hallway,” or “office” talks.   Listen intently when others talk about their interest.  It is not a conversation if only one person is talking.
  • We also said make career connections, for those you may want another opening line: Say you want to go into industry: “I see you are with X company, I am planning to go to industry as well, can I ask you a few question about what it is like to do science in industry?”.  If you are looking to move to a particular region you would ask about what opportunities are available there, and what the job and/or science scene is like.

After the Meeting:

  • Make contact with people you met.  Find people on LinkedIn and connect.  If you do not feel confident in asking to connect on LinkedIn, e-mail and mention you enjoyed getting to know them at the meeting.  Reference your notes and mention a specific project they talked about working on or an experience they shared with you. 
  • When you write, be sure that your e-mail is professional.  This is especially true if you are interested in working for that person in some capacity in the near future.  Click here for some tips on writing professional e-mails.
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