I just came back from CHI conference (http://chi2014.acm.org/), and after talking with other PhD students I realised what I did wrong when trying to network. If only I had known this stuff before…. oh well, lesson learnt for the next upcoming conference!

1. Don’t aim only for the “big names”.

People that are like rockstars in your field might not have time to chat with you or, if they find a few minutes, they might not still be working on that paper you love citing so much. 

2. Don’t just go for questions at the end of a presentation talk.

Questions are good if you want a specific short answer on the paper they just presented, but it’s more likely that you want to have a long conversation with that person and that’s hardly going to happen at the end of a presentation. Especially cause people want to run off to the next session. 

3. Tweet people to meet them up during the conference for coffee or lunch.

Twitter can be a more informal way to approach someone at a conference and arrange a moment when you can have more time to chat about research. Coffee breaks and lunches are a good time to schedule appointments. 

4. Get people (aka your supervisor) to introduce you to others.

But don’t rely on other to introduce you to others. People are busy at conferences, catching up with old acquaintances, friends, colleagues. It is ok to remind them they promised you they’d introduce you to that particular researcher.

5. Look up pictures of people before going to the conference.

If you have a visual memory like me, knowing what people look like helps knowing who you are looking for to meet. I realised I knew lots of names, but had no clue what people looked like. And yes, we were all wearing name tags during a conference, but coffee cups, hands and clothes tend to cover them up!

6. If you can, read the papers before going to the talk.

It gives you a better understanding of the research and more opportunities to talk about that piece of research.

7. There’s no time to be shy!

I’m still working on this one. But practice makes perfect 🙂 


drannalcox · 5th May 2014 at 10:22 am

That should be 10 lessons learnt as you didn’t include these 3:
• Be an SV. OK so it’s not the most exciting role & can get in the way of seeing talks that interest you, but it gave you the opportunity to network with a bunch of graduate students who you’ll meet again at future conferences.
• Participate in a workshop. This gave you the opportunity to present your work to an international audience, gain feedback on it & hear what others are doing. You also networked with more senior researchers.
• Reflect on the experience afterwards. Taking the time to write down what went well as well as what you could do better next time means that you give yourself the best chance of feeling more satisfied next time.


FLK · 5th May 2014 at 10:41 am

I’d add one more: If there’s someone you really want to meet, email them / ask someone to introduce you via email before the conference. That way, if it turns out they are going as well, it’s easier to arrange a meeting.

martaelizabeth · 5th May 2014 at 11:15 am

Good points, thanks! I was (am) going to write about the whole conference experience and include the workshop, sv and self-reflection bits there. Stayed tuned 🙂

PhD life 101 – Marta E. Cecchinato · 3rd October 2016 at 9:47 am

[…] might get easier later on, once you’ve done some research and have something to talk about. Here’s what I learnt in my first year. But the most important thing is to be yourself. You don’t always have to talk about work or […]

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