Pleased to make your acquaintance: making and maintaining contacts is vital for momentum

Networking. We all shudder when we hear that term. (If you say, “I don’t shudder!” you’re lying or you’re an alien.)

As an introverted person I have always found the ‘networking’ aspects of conferences and symposia* to be draining and sometimes downright traumatic. But recently I have had some reminders of why it is so very important to make yourself do it.

*Fun Fact: ‘symposium’ literally means “drinking party” in the original Latin, albeit one where you were supposed to also have intelligent and meaningful conversations. I bet that puts your conference hangovers in a new light.

A couple of years ago I attended a conference which had a pre-conference networking and career orientation day for ECRs (early career researchers). On this day I met two people with whom I am still in contact. We have established a journal club together and support each other through discussions of our current projects and teaching, and have even recently made plans to apply for some small project funding together. Despite never having met again in person since that initial conference in Birmingham, we even manage to have those ‘water cooler’ chats that others seem to be lamenting the loss of so dearly at the moment.

I mentioned that I was struggling to make myself look at the reviewer comments on a paper that I had been sitting on for nearly 6 months. Hannah gave me some excellent advice that I will henceforth share with you all:

  • Rephrase the comments into ‘action points’ so you have concrete Things To Do instead of a list of reasons why your paper wasn’t good enough.
  • If you can’t step back from it enough to do this yourself, get someone else to do it!

So simple, and yet it gave me the push and momentum to do something I’ve been avoiding for half a year. I actually feel like a couple of weeks of concentrated time on the paper and I could resubmit it before the deadline. Amazing!

Today, during journal club, we were discussing the paper we had read this week. It was a quantitative psychology study (not something I’d normally read) and as often happens we ended up discussing the methodology. I mentioned that I was curious about one of the methods used, a study of comments on YouTube videos. Years ago I had suggested a similar study to my supervisor but was told that it was unworkable because of how unregulated internet comment sections were: that although it might be fascinating it was methodologically problematic. Again, Hannah let me know that

  1. Thinking on such studies has changed dramatically in the last 10 years…
  2. …especially now that Covid has changed the manner in which so many of us collect data, and that
  3. Such a study would be perfectly acceptable now and that she could help me design it (Hannah is a quants/stats wizard).

It’s these small, incidental moments which remind me why making contacts and keeping them is so important. Obviously, I return the favours when I can.

More recently, I attended the 2021 iteration of that same conference where I noticed an interesting paper in a session I couldn’t attend. I took advantage of The Internet and found the author on Twitter and asked him about his paper. We got chatting and he recently sent me information on another conference which looks so exciting and which I had no idea about. I’m writing an abstract for it currently.

Years ago, when I was just starting out, someone told me it wasn’t worth just attending a conference, you should always try and present. I’m so glad I ignored that and went even when I didn’t have anything ready to present. The broader point I want to make here is that if you come away from a conference having made one, just one, new contact then you have succeeded. It was worthwhile.

Go forth and make new friends!

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