Networking is an important part of your job search preparation, whether you are staying in academia or transitioning to industry, and the main way that graduate students add new, external contacts to their own professional networks is through conference attendance. Networking at an academic conference can be intimidating, but these tips will help you get the most out of your meeting.
Getting the Networking “Ball” Rolling
Carry Business Cards
Include your institution’s logo, department and status, and your name and contact information. Business cards give new contacts an easy way to remember and get in touch with you after the meeting. You can order business cards online from specialized printers, or buy kits at any office store to DIY, but either way a neat, simple business card is inexpensive and a great investment.
Plan Your Meeting
Who do you want an opportunity to meet? What paper sessions or panels are most likely to give you the opportunity to find and chat with other scholars in your subfield? Look through the meeting schedule and mark the presentations of scholars you’d like to meet as well as papers or general sessions that are likely to put you in proximity to interesting and useful scholars. Make it a point to strike up conversations with these people as time and politeness allow. (If you can’t think of anything else to say, “How is your meeting going?” is the Old Faithful of conversation openers!)
Increase Your Participation Over Time
If you attended the meeting last year, submit a paper this year. Propose a panel. Join a caucus or committee. Attend business meetings when they are open to general membership. Increasing your participation yields more lines on your CV as well as the opportunity to meet more people in your discipline.
Nurturing Your Network
But how do you expand those conference contacts into longer-term networking opportunities?
Keep Business Cards
Jot a note on the back of the business cards you collect at conferences to remind you of what you talked about, what they’re currently working on, or some fact about them, and then have a designated place for other people’s business cards on your desk, so that you can refer back to them when you want to reach out.
Maintain Your Connections
Reach out to people you clicked with a month or two ahead of the next conference; ask if they’re coming and if they’d like to get coffee or have dinner. This gives you the opportunity to turn a chance meeting into a conference connection—and eventually, perhaps a colleague and resource.
Follow Your Connections on Social Media
Are they on Researchgate or Academia.edu? Do they have a professional Twitter or Instagram, or maintain a Facebook page for their group or department? Don’t be afraid to follow them! This is another way that you can maintain the connection with little extra effort on your part.
When you have a question, are interested in collaboration, or just find an article or book relating to something they study or you’ve talked about—don’t be afraid to shoot them an email.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your eventual job search is begin building your network now. The longer-standing a connection is, the more personal capital you have to draw on with that person, and the less awkward you will feel about reaching out during your job search.