The Plight of the Post-Doc

10.14.2009

A Shmoozy Interlude

Not actually an interlude, I just like how it rhymes with my last post.  Back to our regularly scheduled programming!  Job hunting, and more specifically, the Art of Shmoozing. 

As many of you are undoubtedly aware, the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting is just a few days away, and with 25,000 attendees, it's a great opportunity for networking. Scientists have a reputation for being awkward, socially-inept misanthropes who prefer the company of a microscope or cell culture to that of another person, but the reality is that most of us are very friendly and cool and fun to be around.  Are we a little nerdier than most?  Sure.  Are Lord of the Rings references thrown around at a higher frequency than in other groups?  Probably.  But the progress of our careers, science, and thus society as a whole can only be improved by us making friends, so get ready to CHAT IT UP!

A couple of things (literally, a couple) I've learned in my 10 years of attending meetings:

1.  Graduate students (and post-docs), don't be afraid to talk to fancy PIs--you never know when you're going to find a real advocate.  One year at SfN a pretty prominent dude came to my poster and fell in love with my research.  We got along famously, and it led to me being invited to write a review, and later to speak at a conference where I was the only non-faculty-level person on the schedule.  He also introduced me to one of my future (now past) post-doc collaborators, a very famous dude who's recommended me as a source to people writing layperson science books.  Connections!

2.  Speaking of PIs, never assume somebody isn't one.  I remember at my very first poster presentation speaking with a young woman who had very similar interests.  I asked her, "whose lab are you in?" after which there was an AWFUL pause, followed by an indignant "MINE."  Of course, I did my best to be all, "Oh, it's just that you look so young!!!!" but I'm not sure how much good that did.  This woman is pretty much my arch rival now.  In science, not in Life, but still.

For further reference, DrDrA over at Blue Lab Coats has a good list of meeting etiquette tips that I highly recommend you check out. 

I'm wondering how/whether I should track down people from the schools I've applied to.  I obviously have no idea who's on the search committees, and I'd be surprised if many of them will have looked at my application before the meeting.  I feel like it can't hurt to introduce myself to anyone I can find from the department, though, and help them put a face to the name when they do get around to it (especially when the face is as cute as mine!).   I realize that on paper, no one gives a flying fuck about what a charming and fun person I am, but I can't help but think that in person, people do.  Meaning that if I meet people at SfN and they like me, and that gives them even the tiniest of warm happy feelings when they sit down with my CV...well, it's got to be a good thing.

6 comments:

Comrade Physioprof said...

I'm wondering how/whether I should track down people from the schools I've applied to. I obviously have no idea who's on the search committees, and I'd be surprised if many of them will have looked at my application before the meeting. I feel like it can't hurt to introduce myself to anyone I can find from the department, though, and help them put a face to the name when they do get around to it (especially when the face is as cute as mine!).

You need to be very, very careful about this. I strongly urge you *not* to "track down" people from schools you have applied to solely because you have applied there. If you have some legitimate scientific or social reason to talk to such people, that is a different story. But if it is just transparent campaigning it is only going to make you look bad.

Dr Becca, PhD said...

Interesting, thanks! What about if someone comes to my poster from one of the schools--should I mention that I've applied for a job, or just keep it all to myself?

Laura E. Mariani said...

I almost committed sin #2 today! I was in line to get a flu shot (must immunize before giant, germ-filled meeting...) and the dude next to me looked very familiar. I was about to ask him if he'd been in my TA training course for second-year grad students when he said, "Oh, I remember you from the neuroscience retreat!" I did the faculty introductions; he's an assistant professor. He looks so young!

This will be my first SfN, and I'm working on my schmooze skills. My university's Women in Neuroscience group actually had a special meeting about networking at conferences last week, which was both informative (advice from senior students, postdocs, and faculty) and fun (lots of free food and wine). I'm a little worried, though, because they told me not to wear jeans, which are a staple of my wardrobe.

Candid Engineer said...

It surprises me that SfN doesn't have any "meet the candidate" session or some such thing. That's what we do at our annual fall meeting, and it's highly effective. Students/postdocs putting out applications that fall present at a poster session and search committee members and anyone else interested come around and check people out. We also have these social functions all week, and candidates generally are considered to be on a week-long interview.

Of course, I realize the neuroscience is quite different than my field, and so maybe that doesn't float. But I can say that people *do* expect you to campaign for yourself in my field, and while prospective employees certainly care the most about your CV, first (and second) impressions at conference meet and greets go a long way towards landing the interview.

However, I defer to PP's opinion in the neuroscience field, because word on the street is that he is excellent.

Dr Becca, PhD said...

Laura, you can totally wear jeans at SfN, everybody does. I'd go more "business casual" for your poster presentation, but in general, people wear what they'd wear to lab. Keep in mind, too, that it's usually FREEZING in the conference halls.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Jeans are my formal attire.

Post a Comment