Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you networking—or connecting minds as SPIE likes to say—is an important aspect of attending an event. But what’s the best approach to this nebulous act?
Before you even get on the plane, start thinking about networking. Have goals set out to accomplish. For example, “I want to find three to five other researchers doing similar work,” “I want to meet experts A, B, and C,” or “I want to come away with at least three possible job leads.”
This will not only help you have a productive trip, but it also gives you something to talk about if a contact asks what they can do for you.
When you approach someone you want to make contact with, give a short introduction about yourself (and I mean short)—the conversation should be about the other person. Ask open-ended questions, and listen(!), so that you can ask more questions. Before departing, don’t just jab a business card at them, ask if you can give them your card. Courtesy is a rare commodity these days.
Speaking of social faux pas, at receptions or poster sessions, nothing makes a worse impression than someone who’s had too much to drink. You may think you can drink two, three beers and still network like a professional. Newsflash: you aren’t fooling anyone, and you’re embarrassing yourself. Save the partying for later—right now, your mission is to meet people who will help you in your career, not back away slowly.
For SPIE events especially, remember that so much depends on volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, this is a great reason to approach those VIPs and introduce yourself, and volunteering itself is an excellent way to make connections among colleagues.
After the event, follow up with people with whom you had a particularly good interaction. Depending on the circumstance, send a “thank you” e-mail, or take the opportunity to ask more questions and keep the conversation going.
In the end, be genuine. Don’t get down on yourself or create too much pressure. If you talk too fast or trip over a few words but are sincere, you’ll more than likely get the benefit of the doubt. Remember, everyone’s been in your shoes before, just try to relax and be yourself.
Networking at Optics + Photonics
The SPIE Optics + Photonics symposium presents many networking opportunities. Here are a few to keep in mind: Student Chapter Leadership Workshop Student Lunch with the Experts SPIE Member Reception Women in Optics Reception Your Conferences On the Exhibit Floor Poster Sessions
Erin M. Schadt
SPIE Professional Managing Editor