Friday, May 20, 2016

How You Ought To Be Networking, for younger PhD Students

Here's one set of suggestions, from Jean Yang. Here's another list of suggestions, from Xiang Anthony Chen.

If I had to make a list, it would be one item:
1. Don't worry, it's okay.

Look, you're a young PhD student. Of course you're nervous and second guessing everything you do. In a conference environment, you'll hit all kinds of extra stressors: people asking about your work, people you're supposed to know, people you know even though you're not supposed to, weird group social dynamics, parties, talks you're supposed to be attending, talks you're supposed to be understanding, sleep deprivation, travel issues, big rooms of 500 people. I'm not going to tack on more anxiety by telling you more things you should and shouldn't do.

Because this is a blog and I can yammer on a bit, here are some more thoughts.

You can sit with the same people twice!
It's okay! My old advisor, Anind Dey, used to complain about CMU students all sticking together, so I got this anti-CMU itch, like I gotta go *network* more and avoid hanging out with my friends. This feels unnatural. Having a couple friends makes you way more confident. And what usually ends up happening is it's two people I know and three people I don't, and I make three strong connections instead of one weak one. And even if you don't meet any new people in a given half hour, you're probably strengthening older relationships instead. Every interaction with another person either builds your quantity or quality of relationships; both are good.

You don't need to seek people out and prepare talking points and questions.
This is always awkward, in my experience. Like, I'm a new kid, how am I going to have brilliant questions (or even valid questions) for your work? In the worst case, you run the risk of getting all fanboi. By all means, don't feel afraid to approach anyone, but don't feel like you have to go scavenger hunting and ticking off boxes.

It's useful to ambush randos at smaller conferences, not at CHI. Just find someone and start talking to them. I agree with it at a smaller conference (a few hundred people). I disagree at CHI. Most randos at CHI do something totally different from you and you'll never see them again. Anyway, if you're not great at ambushing randos, that is fine too; you'll meet people via friends of friends and other ways anyway.

Relatedly: Student Volunteer at smaller conferences, and not at CHI. At smaller conferences, it's great, gives you something to do when you don't have many friends yet, makes you some friends, and saves you a few hundred bucks. But at CHI, you meet a bunch of randos and it sucks up your entire week (including staying late or getting up early, which adds physical stress to an already-stressful week). If your advisor really wants you to SV, tell them you'd rather pay the conference fee yourself. (of course, this is only if you can afford to do so. btw, go to grad school in Pittsburgh so you can afford to do so :)

Jean and Anthony have a lot of good points! Including these: wear comfortable shoes, carry a notebook, always wear your nametag (shorten the cord a bit so it's easy for people to see your name while talking with you), carry a jacket (even if it's warm; conference rooms are often cold), skip sessions (especially the early morning ones! you can't do anything if you don't sleep!), eat healthy.

Make friends, talk to them a lot, they'll be your colleagues forever. (from Jeff Bigham on Twitter (1, 2, 3))
don't worry too much about talking to the famous ppl, your friends will be famous soon! so, be merry w/ them
…and, don't take it too badly if the famous person is off hanging w/ their friends, you'll know/be them soon enough

No comments:

Post a Comment