Networking: Reframe the Concept

Nora Gilliam is a Scholar at IUPUI majoring in Chemistry and Epidemiology. She has been an IN LSAMP Scholar since spring, 2018.  She is seeking a BSPH degree in Epidemiology and a BA degree in Chemistry. Nora attended the November 2018 ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students) meeting in Indianapolis where she was awarded the ABRCMS 2018 Presentation Award in Microbiology, an award given to the top 15% presenters of the conference. Over 2,000 students attended this four-day conference from 350 colleges and universities.

Nora Gilliam ABRCMS award spring 2018

Attending the meeting, as they say, ‘is kind of a big deal’. Gilliam coming away with concrete ideas for career advancement and a prize for her presentation is definitely ‘a big deal’.

If networking at a professional conference among a large group of unknown people is not on the top of your wish list or leaves you feeling nervous, you are not alone. However, after hearing feedback on the experience from Gilliam you might be inclined to reconsider. “At ABRCMS, I learned that there are so many young people of diverse backgrounds who are dedicated to science and changing the world as much as I am.  Many of the people I met were so friendly; I think we were all so happy to be around intelligent, science-oriented folks and we all just wanted to see each other succeed. I feel this way when I am with my IUPUI LSAMP cohort mates, but it was just cool to meet people from all over.”

As Gilliam discovered, networking is much easier when fueled by shared interests.

Shared interests lend authenticity to networking situations

Nora points out attending conferences benefits students through meeting potential collaborators, successful scientists, and postgraduate educators. These introductions provides fertile ground for a robust exchange of ideas and perspectives as well as sheer inspiration. A discussion with a faculty member gave Nora ideas about incorporating all of her educational goals and passions – infectious disease, environmental health and health disparities – into her research.

“At the conference, I would say my networking skills definitely got better,” says Nora.  If you tend to view networking as a waste of time or something you are not comfortable doing, try reframing the experience. Focus on what you bring to the table.  One way is to express gratitude to your mentors and to those who have guided your academic path.  Even the highest ranked scientists appreciate knowing that their efforts contributed to a student’s professional growth.

Introverted students can also reframe by taking the focus off their relatively “undeveloped” status and think about talking to people as an exercise to enhance your knowledge and skills. While preparing for the conference, think about what interests you might have in common with other attendees and practice networking with them first. Consider taking some time to research the presenters and workshop, or identify other students with similar research presentations. Being prepared with well-placed questions and observations that others will enjoy hearing will boost your comfort and confidence.

Ease of networking and striking up conversations with others takes practice and patience. It won’t happen overnight, but regularly attending research conferences is definitely a start. – Nora Gilliam, IN LSAMP Scholar IUPUI

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