Post-Conference Thoughts

Last week I attended a national conference and had a great conference experience. This post will speak to things that we junior to mid-career faculty can do better. And, I’ll also have some advice for the advanced graduate students.

1. Walk around ready to engage in small talk with people you don’t know or want to meet. Try to avoid only chatting with your friends and colleagues. While picking up with them is important, you also can serve as a bridge to someone new at that meeting or new to the discipline.

2. Smile and say hello. It sounds simple, but it doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Ask people about their project. Try to be friendly. When Rita Mae Kelly died some years ago, I was quite upset. I didn’t know her well, but I recalled on numerous occasions she approached me and chatted with me for 5-15 minutes asking me about my grad school experience. She went out of her way to make me feel comfortable at the Political Science Meetings. When a session was held for her, I was in the audience crying. I looked forward to her chats. We never exchanged an email, but I was familiar with her work and I have all those memories of our chats that can’t count up to more than 5.

3. Go to the receptions and some of the dinners. It’s good be seen, but also it’s another opportunity for you to meet new people or strengthen old networks. When I walked into the banquet room with 270+ people I made the immediate decision to not look for friends. Instead I walked up to a half filled table and sat down there. As luck would have it, sitting across from me was someone I “met” via Twitter! I ended up having interesting conversations with a retired colleague and an advanced grad student from a UK program.

4. I was glad that I was active on the Twitter tag for the conference. The first morning I had breakfast with an undergrad from another province. We chatted and walked back to the conference site. I was also able to meet some others in real life, who I had previously known on Twitter. Social Media can be useful for the conference. I took notes at the Women’s’ Caucus Luncheon’s Mentoring Session and posted them immediately on Tumbler.

5. I attended lots of wonderful sessions and made a point to speak to one of the presenters. And, I also thanked the chair or discussant for their helpful comments. I paid attention. The panelists in some cases were senior people across the discipline, and in other instances are future colleagues. One of these conversations once led to a publication opportunity.

6. Take business cards. You might meet new people who want to contact you or vice versa. It’s good to have the cards at the ready. I find that I am apt to pass them out more so to advanced graduate students and let them know that I’m just an email or tweet away!

Overall, the conference was a success and from my comments you can glean: be out there!

Tips for the #CPSA

These tips are good for most academic conferences and probably even for non-academic conferences. I know that I’ve used these tips at Social Media Conferences, women’s conferences, and other work related conferences. The Canadian Political Science Conference begins tomorrow night at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. And, these comments are good for graduate students, people on the market, and probably for some junior faculty.

My major point of advice is to first ascertain what sort of conference participation do you want. Do you want to attend, see your friends, and leave? Perhaps you are on the job market and you want to network and help raise your profile. If you’re on the job market, I suggest that you focus on your presentation or attending the presentations of people in your sub-field, and prepare for networking. What does this mean? Have conversations with people–communicate. Ask them if they are enjoying the conference, and which panels did they like best. Yes, this is small talk, but you might be getting to know someone for the first time and then the conversation can hopefully continue.

How do you do this? Smile. Be ready to have conversation with people at the conference meetings. Ask questions during the question and answer period after a presentation. When you’re at a reception (yes, attend some of them), walk around and talk to people. This might be small talk about the food or notice their name tag. You might know someone at their institution. Do you have business cards? If so, prepare to pass them out, when you’ve chatted with someone. You might want more comments from them on a chapter of your thesis or an article that you’re working on.

Likewise, if you’re giving a presentation, talk to the people on the panel and in the room afterward. You might find that someone there wants to chat more with you. Be bold and encourage the group to continue the conversation over coffee, drinks later or to meet at a reception. The only way that you’ll meet new people is if you make an effort. If you really want to meet a particular person, see if any of your mentors know this person and can introduce you.

Go to receptions! Be seen. Talk to people. Wear your name tag. Plan your conference itinerary. Spend pockets doing the networking thing and others attending the conference or seeing the conference city.The organization will help you avoid exhaustion of being “on” during the entire conference. This means that you need to take time to recharge, but be careful to not drink too much at any official conference events. It doesn’t look too professional and you don’t need a hangover. If you’re looking for work and there are certain people you want to meet–attend their talks or attend their campus reception. This is easier if the host site is the department in question. Overall, enjoy the conference and go there with an open mind and positive attitude.