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Making contacts at conferences

  1. Aug 28, 2009 #1
    Hi all!

    I often hear that the most important part of conferences is getting to know people personally, and all that. But how do you actually do that?

    Is it common for an average grad student to pull some professor by his sleeve and say "hey, I'm working on something remotely connected to your research, please hear me out" ? And when are you supposed to do that - after the lecture ends, or during the coffee time? Or does your advisor have to introduce you to somebody?

    Or am I completely wrong about all this? (Just haven't been to international conferences yet)

    What do you think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 28, 2009 #2


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    I'm only a wee grad student myself, so don't have much experience, but I'd say any of your suggested methods are fine. If your supervisor is there, then you can expect him to introduce you to people that he knows (though this isn't the case for all supervisors). Otherwise, coffee time, over/after lunch, dinner or in the pub are ideal times to approach people you want to talk to (that's what the extended breaks are for!) I find the best way is to introduce yourself, say "I'm y, a student of prof x", and then ask your question. It can be pretty daunting at first, but then you realise that professors like talking about their work, and answering relevant questions from keen grad students. After all, if they didn't want to talk about their work, they wouldn't be at a conference in the first place!
  4. Aug 28, 2009 #3


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    This is what the poster sessions are for.
    The "best case" scenario is that the person you want to talk to shows up at your poster and asks you to explain what you have done which then gives you the opportunity to ask questions.
    Another possibility is of course that the person you are interested in talking to is presenting a poster; same principle apply.
    If the person in questions is NOT presenting a poster (usually because he/she is giving a talk instead) it is possible that he/she has a PhD student that is presenting something and talking to that student is often a good way to later get introduced to the professor (and it is not uncommon for professors to "hover" near the posters in order so he/she might show up if you start talking to the student).

    Also, NEVER underestimate the benefits of talking to other students at conferences. This is especially true if you are an experimentalists since they are almost inevitably the ones doing most of the practical work. It is likely that they know more than the professor when it comes to e.g. how a particular measurement has been done. Also remember that some of the PhD students you talk to will one day be professors (or at least post-docs) themselves; so getting to know them know can benefit you a few years down the line.

    Keep in mind that most scientists are happy to explain their work to ANYONE that is interested (and quite often to people who are NOT interested as well:zzz:). This is true for almost everyone, even people who are "celebrities".
  5. Aug 28, 2009 #4


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    I agree with all the advice given so far. It can be intimidating introducing yourself, but most people are at least somewhat receptive to students interested in their work. Even if you don't feel you have an intelligent question to ask, you can always start out by telling that person you are interested in the work the he or she is doing and you want learning more about the field and ask for recommendations.
  6. Aug 28, 2009 #5
    I think you must look sexy - that works without fail.
  7. Aug 28, 2009 #6
    Thanks for all the replies!

    I have no idea how all this works, and your advice are really encouraging!
    I'm actually going to attend a conference soon, so I hope to use the (rare) opportunity to meet some people. Still, all this sounds a bit intimidating...

    How true! (especially the paranthesis)

    Bob_for_short - thanks for the advice, but actually I always look sexy anyway. I doubt, however, that my astonishingly good looks will help me bond with female professors (and some of the male, too), which is really the reason I'm asking this question. :bugeye:
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