This weekend I traveled to the Scottish Highlands and hiked Ben Nevis on an unusually sunny Saturday. On a typical weekend I try to think about the upcoming week’s blog post, but this time I had other things on my mind, namely What am I going to pack for the upcoming SETAC meeting? This seems an odd question to spring to mind while hiking the tallest peak in the UK, but it was partially relevant and inspired by the attire of the hikers that I crossed along the trail. While there are some ‘rules’ to hiking clothes, such as sturdy boots, some sun protection, and layers that you can take on and off in case the weather takes a turn, you always end up seeing quite an assortment of outfits on a hike, ranging from the fully equipped hiker with high-end equipment in all matching brands and colors to the person who just looks like they rolled out of bed and hit the trail.
For those of us that work in a wet lab setting or who spend our whole day in an office with other graduate students or researchers, there really aren’t any day-to-day outfit ‘rules’ (except for closed-toe shoes when necessary). As graduate students and early career researchers, we can easily get away with wearing just about whatever we want and as long as it’s comfortable and appropriate for your work environment, there’s little else that needs to be done. That being said, there are times of the year when all of a sudden new rules come into play, and several situations will arise when your most tattered jeans and your most favorite t-shirt just won’t get the job done. One of these important times is presenting at or attending a scientific conference.
Regardless of whether you’re heading to the meeting just to learn some new science and do some networking or whether you’re giving your own platform or poster presentation, scientific conferences are an important fixture in any young scientists’ career. It’s a time for your work to be seen by a bigger audience, to make connections that will last throughout your career, and to leave a good impression on potential future employers and collaborators. Like it or not, your attire will be part of that impression. So given the importance of conferences, what’s the best way to dress for success?
What’s your style?
I’m not going to write this post as a go-to style guide on How to dress yourself for a conference, but instead I’ll focus on the more important question of What’s your style?, since finding the answer to this will set you up for knowing what to pack in that suitcase of yours. Finding your style will take some time, and likely you’ve already gone through some style phases of your own. In high school and college, I didn’t really have a great sense of style, and found myself trying to figure out how I wanted to look by trying to emulate what I saw on other people or what looked nice on a store mannequin. At some point in grad school, and really not even until my post-doc, did I figure what type of clothes I liked and what looked good on me. Since then I haven’t deviated too far away from my go-to outfits, which are generally skinny jeans, fitted graphic t-shirts, and a blazer/sweater combo (since, after all, life in Northern England is generally not adept to being out in just a t-shirt). Finding my own style came down to asking myself what I wanted to convey through my clothes, and the answer was that I wanted a balance of fitted yet casual and simple yet able to be scaled up with a change of shoes or jacket.
I won’t be able to tell you what exactly you should wear at a conference, but will instead I encourage you to think about what message you want to convey through your style in general. If it makes you happy and makes you feel good about yourself, then go for it! Once you figure this out, you can focus on tailoring your conference wear as simply a slightly upgraded version of your regular style.
To be both comfortable and presentable throughout the conference day, think of an outfit that would be appropriate for a long day at work followed by a social event (such as getting a drink or eating out with your friends). Once you have this in mind, take the outfit up a notch in terms of professionalism. Focus on clean and simple outfits that will let you and your work shine. And while I’m all about finding your style and embracing your own sense of you through this blog, I would encourage you to not have your conference style to not be a hoodie and pair of sweatpants. While it’s important to be yourself and to be comfortable, you also want to make a good impression by showing the best side of you possible, so here’s a few tips to help you get there:
These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.
If you’ve never been to a conference, here’s the first thing you should know: conferences take a lot out on your feet. You might first think that you’ll just be sitting in presentations all day, but there’s actually quite a bit of time you’ll not be sitting down. Between walking to the conference center from your hotel and back, going between different session rooms (and if it’s a big conference, the rooms can be quite far apart), walking outside to get lunch with colleagues, and finishing off the day with poster socials and other networking events, which will likely keep you on your toes as you mingle and meet new people. As a bit of perspective, your feet will take as much of a beating at a conference as they would a whole day standing around working in a wet lab.
Since your feet are important for walking, standing, and other necessary conference activities, be sure to set yourself up for success by making them (your feet) comfortable. Again the key here is to focus on getting a slight upgrade of what your go-to shoes already are, and then you’re on your way to being conference savvy while lasting the whole day without blisters or sore feet. If your go-to style is a tennis shoe or casual trainer, then a pair of leather-sided trainers can easily be a nice conference shoe option. If you love boots and heels and wear them on a regular basis, then by all means go with them for the meeting—but only if they are a pair of shoes you’d wear if you were standing all day in a non-conference setting. If they’re not, leave them at home. Girls’ shoes are notoriously devious, as we’ve recently been tricked into thinking that ballet flats are a comfortable alternative to dressing in heels for a more professional look. If you have a pair of often-worn, broken-in flats that you wear around work all the time, then by all means bring them to the meeting. If you just bought a brand-new pair that only go with your presentation outfit, you’re better off leaving at home unless you want to spend your presentation day looking for band-aids to cover up your numerous blisters. The worst thing you can do at a conference is put your feet in so much pain that you can’t be yourself or made to feel like you should go home and change instead of taking advantage of all the networking opportunities.
Pants, skirts, or something in between?
Unless your conference is quite literally on a tropical beach, our official Science with Style recommendation is to avoid shorts at a conference. Even if they are ‘nice shorts’ or the weather is rather hot, shorts are still nearly impossible to help you convey a professional look. Otherwise, stick to the mantra of aiming for a slightly style upgraded version of yourself. If you’re a denim jeans kind of person, then don’t feel the need to stray too far from your go-to bottoms by buying a pair of dress pants that you’ll never wear again. If you go for denim jeans, make sure to avoid trendy washes or that damaged/cut-out look and instead go with a straightforward and simple cut and color, and darker colors can even give the illusion of dress pants if you want to look a bit more formal.
Girls again have a few more options for warmer weather such as skirts and dresses. If you enjoy wearing skirts and dresses and generally go for something more loose or casual fit at work, then at the conference aim for a slightly more fitted cut. Don’t feel like you need to put on a dress or skirt for a conference if you normally don’t wear them, and don’t choose an outfit solely on the fact that it’s dressy. Go for a conference outfit that you like and one that helps you feel like yourself. If you go over the top on dressing up, you’ll be more likely to stand out due to not being comfortable rather than for having great research results.
Topping things off
Bring shirts to a conference that are clean and simple, and as with denim try to avoid anything overly trendy in terms of washes or wording, and don’t go for any tops that weirdly cut or showing skin that doesn’t need to be shown in a professional setting. For me, the thing I like about wearing t-shirts is that they are easy to finish off with an H&M blazer or sweater, which helps tone down the casual feel of the outfit. While I have a large range of graphic design shirts, for conferences I stick to simpler ones that are focused more on good design without much text—messages should be kept to your presentations instead!
If you’re looking for a dressier alternative, button-up shirts are an easy way to have more of a formal look for a presentation or meeting a future employer. Spend the time to find a dress shirt that works for you instead of grabbing the first one off the shelf, and look for one that has a good cut for your body type as well as being made of a breathable material. The last think you want to do is to get all dressed up for a talk in some fabric that’s not cut right or starts making you sweat when you’re standing at the front of a full room giving your talk.
Another fact about conferences for those that haven’t attended one yet: regardless of what country, outdoor temperature, or time of the year that the meeting is in, most if not all conference centers are seemingly designed to only be a few degrees warmer than your walk-in fridge in the lab. You’ll need to keep warm even if it’s hot outside, so layers such as blazers or cardigans are an easy way to dress up an outfit while also keeping you from freezing during the platform sessions. All you need are a couple of top layers that look good with both more casual or more formal conference outfits and you’ll easily be set for a week-long conference.
Accessories for success(-ories)
- Bag it up. You’ll most likely get a free conference back when you pick up your registration materials. At first glance it seems perfect: just what you need for carrying around your laptop, abstract book, and free pens from the exhibition booths all week long! The only problem with this is that this same bag will also be given to the 500+ other conference attendees, which can make it easy for your stuff to get switched around for someone else’s. Save some room in your suitcase to bring one of your favorite backpacks or shoulder bags instead. That way you can carry your conference necessities (and swag) around all week in a bag that you know is comfortable, and you can also find your stuff more easily in a pile of other delegate bags when you’re leaving a busy session room.
- Keep up with the times. Your conference week will be driven by scheduled talks, meetings, and social events. Keeping good time is essential, and is also an easy opportunity to upgrade your style for a conference. I’ve yet to find a nice watch that I like and still rely on my phone for the time, but if you are looking for the opportunity to wear your graduation gift from your grandparents, there’s no better time.
- Kiss and make-up? As with the rest of your outfit, aim for just a slight upgrade of your current style. Don’t feel like you need to be fancy, and for girls you also don’t feel like you need to wear make-up if you usually don’t.
I hope this post offers some useful insights into packing your backs for your next (or even first!) big scientific conference. Just as with hiking, there’s no right or wrong way to do your style, but there are a few suggestions that will keep your feet from getting stubbed on rocks, or rather blistered in the case of long conference days. As for me, I should start packing my own conference bag here soon, now that my favorite blazer is clean and I have my A-team t-shirts assembled and ready for the final selection. If only perfecting my platform presentation was as easy as packing for the meeting!
Greetings from the sunny Midwest of the US of A, relaxing at my parent's house after the SETAC North America meeting. After a busy week of science, networking, and some amazing Utah beers, the big conference is done, talks and meetings about future meetings and everything in between. While there’s still a lot to be done, coming back home from these conferences is always a refreshing experience, thinking about spending time with new colleagues and old friends and with new ideas and renewed motivation to spur me through the rest of the year.
As promised in a previous post, I wanted to finish off the tutorial for the five easy* steps for a perfect** presentation. I’m glad that the talk went well and that even when being placed during one of the last sessions of the conference when people are already heading home that there were a decent number of people who came to hear my talk. This post will focus on how I applied the lessons about the concepts of the story, take a bow, and break a leg to make the talk in the best way I could, even after a busy week of networking and meetings within meetings to talk about future meetings.
3. THE STORY
I had previously finished the introduction part of my story board for a previous post, and once I developed an outline for what I wanted to say I went on to make the actual power point slides. While I had given a talk about some of this data before, this time I wanted to feel more confident with how I presented the introduction and took the initiative (and a few minutes outside of my lab work) to think about how I wanted to tell this story. While narcosis is not a new topic of interest either in SETAC or for Unilever, I hadn’t yet thought about how I saw the problem and potential solutions. And while there are other experts on narcosis out there, my goal with this talk was to present my perspective based on my own background reading and my own vision of the problem. I was much happier with how these slides came out than last time, and was glad to have taken the extra time to think about the problem and the solution(s) more in-depth as opposed to just saying word-for-word what someone else had previously said.
With this revitalized excitement and a bit more ownership of my post-doc project, I found that once I made the introduction slides (which did take some time, with lots of new graphics and thoughts about how to display different pieces of information), the rest of the talk came more easily. It was just a matter of deciding which figures to show in the short amount of time I had and what was most relevant to show that addressed the questions I presented. For the methods overview and experimental background, I focused on using flow chart-style slides that depicted what questions I was answering with what analyses (see the end of the paragraph for the middle section of my slide deck). I kept these questions as headers of my slides that showed the results relevant for each section, in order to make it clear to my audience why I was presenting what I did. I avoided using tables or figures with really small font, because nothing is quite as awkward as presenting results that no one in the audience can see or interpret. Before the talk began I actually took out an entire slide because I realized during practice that it wasn’t adding anything to the presentation. I put the slide at the end of the talk as a back-up just in case there were specific questions related to it, and I found that when I took that superfluous slide out that the story flowed much more nicely.
4. TAKE A BOW
I’m in debt to my presentation co-authors on this one. Initially I had a rather messy slide summarizing the findings and listing all of the experiments we were planning on next. Thanks to a comment about the slide, I rearranged how I talked about future experiments to make it look more streamlined. I also gave a big-picture look at how the project fit in with Unilever’s aims and goals as well as the project itself. In the conclusions I presented here, I first focused on what did you learn about the problem? by breaking down results specific for the two questions I presented. Then instead of just listing out all of the things we could do for this project, I focused on looking at what still remains unanswered but is important for solving the problem? and how that fit into the overarching goals and objectives for the project on a wider scale.
I also had a slide thanking co-authors and collaborators, which I prefer to see at the end of a talk as opposed to the beginning. It keeps the flow of the presentation more smooth and makes more sense logically to thank people that helped you out with a project after you actually talk about what that project is. In addition to the acknowledgements slide, I also include a second thank you slide to thank the audience and to have a holder photo or something visually appealing. I do this so you can transition away from the acknowledgements slide and have a holding slide while you answer questions. This doesn’t leave a distracting slide full of collaborator names to look at, and doesn’t force you to use the black screen that powerpoint gives back when you finish a presentation. During my PhD I used pictures from the field sites I worked at, or happy little mosquitofish swimming around, and now I enjoy highlighting my adopted home town of Liverpool and to make a comment about how it’s not always raining in England.
One thing I forgot is to put my contact information and twitter handle on the last thank-you slide. This makes more sense than having it at the beginning, since it will be the slide that will stay on the presentation screen for longer than if it's at the first slide. Something to remember for next time!
5. BREAK A LEG!
Despite other scientists telling me that I’m a great presenter and having won a few SETAC platform presentation awards, I still get nervous and have a few moments of panic and self-doubt before any talk. Because my last talk on this project hadn’t gone that well, I was especially nervous and wanted to do really well, this time with a potentially much larger audience of peers and collaborators. No pressure! With all this in mind, I took the time I needed to practice my talk and to make sure that I had my transitions and talking points solidly in hand.
I practiced the talk two times completely through, and realized after my first go that I had no idea how to start the talk. I spend time thinking about what precisely I wanted to say once I clicked off from the title slide, and once I had that sorted out I actually wrote down what I wanted to say just to get it more 'stuck' in my mind. I didn’t’ take down my notes up on stage but when I practiced the talk a second time I jotted down the key points that I wanted to be sure to say and things that weren’t clearly written on my slides. Writing them down during the practice, but not reading them from paper during the talk, ensured that I remembered them when needed without looking awkwardly at notes or index cards while searching for a thought during the actual talk.
At the start of my talk I saw the lead author of a paper I cited, and a SETAC veteran and all-around nice guy, sitting in the audience. I thought he might show up so I acknowledged his presence in the room when I talked about his paper. Maybe a bit over the top but I feel it’s weird to talk about someone’s paper when they are sitting in the audience, so I embraced the awkward and said hi to the guy. (Follow-up note: He said hi to me after my talk and told me he really enjoys seeing where my work is going. Awesome!!).
Final hurdle for the presentation itself: My talk was being recorded, meaning that all my collaborators and Unilever folks could watch it and listen to me after the meeting. The talk I subbed in for was also recorded at the last SETAC meeting, and I remember being horrified while listening to myself. I had a bit of a cold at the time and was sniffling LOUDLY during the entire talk, all captured on audio and immortalized for SETAC history. With that memory in mind, this time I made a quick dash to the bathroom to blow my nose before the talk and paid attention to myself as I spoke, making sure to do any coughs or sniffs away from the microphone. I think this time I sounded much better, but I’ll have to force myself to listen to my talk yet again and make sure I didn’t make some other strange noises to replace the sniffling.
I also took a cup of water up to the podium with me and took one drink during the talk because I tend to have a bit of dry mouth from nervousness. I time my drinks so I don’t take too large of a gap in time between thoughts. What I normally do is grab the cup when starting a slide, hold it in my hand while talking through the slide, and then take a quick drink and set it down as I click to the next slide. It keeps the thoughts moving more smoothly but still allows me to give my parched throat a rest during the 15 minute talk.
I was happy with how the talk went, and not because I did all of slides perfectly with no awkward sarcastic comments or mis-steps over words. I felt comfortable because I was telling a story that I had crafted instead of repeating what someone else had explained and said was important. I listened to advice from co-authors to help make the finishing slides more clear and concise. I recognized that I needed to do a couple of practice runs, even though this data was not brand-new, to make sure that the story came across accurately but was also interesting. That being said, I think I did make at least one sarcastic joke about my science hidden in there somewhere, which will soon become immortalized on the SETAC website for all to hear and enjoy. Maybe if research or style blogging doesn’t work out I can always take my show on the road as a nerd comedian. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to give back to the world...
I've been meaning to write a blog post since the meeting kicked off on Monday, but as conferences always go there's always someone to talk to or some meeting to listen in on or a talk to attend. I'm taking advantage of a short break between coffee socializing and talking to students and exhibitors about the next SETAC YES meeting to write down some thoughts and perspectives on this conference.
This is my 6th time attending the SETAC North America meeting, and even as an early career researcher I'm always overwhelmed with catching up with people I knew from before while also making new contacts. It's great to be back as something of a scientific family reunion at this year's meeting in the clean and contemporary capital of Utah. Salt Lake City has been a great venue for this event and for my return back to the US of A after a year away, and a good opportunity to wear my autumn boots on this chilly autumn day!
While I've been busy this week I've managed to come up with a few thoughts and suggestions to help make the best of those fast-paced and exhausting conference days:
- Be comfortable. I yet again made the mistake of wearing heels on the first day of the meeting. I followed up the rest of the meeting wearing my favorite broken-in Lacoste black trainers, and while I may have looked more casual I felt more comfortable and more like myself. When you feel comfortable you can act more like yourself and let the more important things shine through, like your passion for your research or your presentation skills. We tend not to wear conference clothes all of the time, with shoes not broken in and dress pants we haven't worn in a year. Instead of just dressing up, focus on embracing your style while still conveying a professional look, attitude, and how you carry yourself. And if you can stand and talk to a new contact without shifting awkwardly in shoes giving you a blister, you can make the focus of the conversationmore on you and your ideas and less on what you're wearing.
- Let ideas happen. I spoke on Monday to Namrata Sengupta from Clemson about the Clemson What's in our Waters (WOW) project, which I'll feature in a future blog post talking about outreach projects at different universities. This idea first came about over drinks at a previous SETAC meeting. It wasn't from a formal sit-down brainstorming session but just came about while sitting around with friends and colleagues talking about what would be fun, useful, and engaging for undergrads. At conferences we all get busy thinking about our own presentations, project meetings, and talks we have to go to, so be sure to leave time for creative endeavors and new ideas to take form, which often times don't take place in a board room but at a pub or over coffee with friends.
- If you're at a loss for words, ask where someone is from. I love doing this because it can always lead to a story or a shared experience. Maybe you've been on a trip to where someone grew up or you happened to go to nearby universities for undergrad. It's interesting to see where people go and where they came from throughout their careers, and it's an easy conversation started since everyone you meet is always from somewhere. One exhibitor even made a word association game out of it, asking people what the first thing they thought of when they heard 'Texas'. It was a bit more boring to do that the opposite way for me and ask people what they thought of about Nebraska. Yes, it is flat and yes, we have corn.
- Take notes! I'm in a slight crisis at having lost my original program book, after I wrote down some ideas and follow-up tasks during an organizational meeting. Now I thankfully have my trusty green idea notebook back at hand and have been jotting down impressions and ideas from this meeting along the way, without needing to rely on the intermittent wifi connections. You'll meet so many people and hear so many ideas, so write them down before you forget them! I also write down a couple of words about someone if I take a business card, whether it's what we talked about or what I wanted out of a follow-up, just so I don't end up with a pile of names and affiliations after a long week of talks and meetings.
- Minimize your screen time. The hardest part about being a blogger at a meeting is that I don't want to sit by myself and blog! There are so many colleagues and new people to talk to that I hate the thought of isolating myself to write. For me, writing is a way to relax a bit and recharge after a lot of social and professional interactions, so forcing myself to think and write during a break in the meeting was a good exercise. It can be tempting, especially for us introverts, to want to spend too much time on your phone or computer or to make excuses that you need to work on something. While there are emails that need answering and presentations to practice, be sure to focus on using your time for personal interactions. And they don't always have to be formal-great ideas and connections come from coffee with new colleagues or jokes at a poster social.
Now with the poster social starting I should get off my laptop and back into the social universe. Good luck to those of you finishing off the SETAC meeting and for anyone with an upcoming conference,whether its a first-time meeting or sixth-time meeting! Tomorrow is my conference presentation so I'll tie up the lose ends of the post I made about making my conference presentation based on the five easy steps for making a presentation. So stay tuned for an upcoming post on how it went and how I used the five steps to make the best possible presentation. And now, time for beer and networking!
Hello from the red rock valleys of the Mountain West! This week I took a break from posting to enjoy the scenery of home and to prepare for a busy week of short posts and tweets from the 36th annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry meeting next week. It will be a busy week following the science communication and outreach sessions and talking to other toxicologists about the SwS blog.
I'm also working on a survey which I'll keep a link for in the Contact section. I'd like to hear about your experience in research, what training programs you think would enhance your career, and how your expectations of life in science were met or not.
Until Sunday, I've got a couple more days to enjoy the sun and rocks before a busy week of science and networking in the stylish Salt Lake City. Follow us on twitter for live updates during the conference on the #SETACSLC hashtag. For those of you heading to SETAC, see you soon!
“Network, network, network!” Networking is often touted as the most important thing that graduate students and young researchers should do, even early in their careers. While it’s easy for people to say over and over again how important it is and to generally understand its importance for professional development, what’s not as clear is how networking in scientific research actually works, and how you should go about networking effectively.
How exactly do I network? is a pressing question for students putting together the final touches on their dissertation and for post-docs and entry-level researchers who are running short of days on their contract. The elusive nature of networking can become readily apparent while attending a conference at during one of these crucial times, seeking out potential employers and setting yourself up for the next stage of your career while navigating through the busy crowds at poster socials. While some people seem to be natural at attracting collaborators and colleagues, for other it’s not as easy. For most of us, collaborators and potential employers won’t just appear from thin air, and networking is not always something that comes naturally, especially for those of us that prefer to keep to ourselves or who feel more out of place when interacting with groups of people (e.g. introverts, myself included!).
Before we think further on how to network, we should first think about what networking is. Instead of rushing off to Webster, though, let’s turn to something that’s been pretty successful with its networking, by definition: the Internet. In addition to being many a source of most of the information we consume each day, with an array of activities ranging from productivity to procrastination, the Internet is also the perfect model for professional networking. The infrastructure used by telecommunication systems are designed with communication in mind, with the end goal of making purposeful connections between people and places. As nerdy as it may sound, we can actually use the infrastructure of Open Systems Interconnection models (OSI; more nerdy stuff here) to get a better picture of what networking is, and give us a road map of how we can actually go about doing this important yet somewhat nebulous professional task.
1. Physical layer
In the OSI model, a physical connection corresponds to the medium that allows the message to be transmitted, in this case electricity flowing through an Ethernet cable or the electromagnetic waves of wifi. For the wifi example, while there isn’t a solid physical connection, your computer has to be using the correct frequency and within range in order to get any signal. In professional networking, the physical connection is any sort of connection between you and another person, a connection that allows for mutual interaction and for being in their presence. It doesn’t have to be a physical or in-person interaction at first, the medium can be LinkedIn, a quick wave at a conference or workshop, or the fact that you have their email address in your contacts list since you were on the same email exchange about another project. The key is that this layer allows you to interact with the other person and to begin the next steps towards networking more fully.
2. Data link layer
This layer relates to a reliable transmission of data between two nodes. It’s the same progression as with networking: you may have had a quick handshake at a conference dinner, but can you say you’ve really met them? For professional networking, this step means taking your connection further by reaching out to them with a bit more than just a ‘hello’ or a handshake. The key with this layer is to begin the process of active communication, with the goal of speaking the same ‘language’ and being on the same page. Whether it’s collaboration, a job, or career advice, this is the stage where you introduce yourself and start making a connection between yourself, your goals, and how the other person can transmit and receive back to you more reliably. Another key with this step is not expecting too much too early: don’t expect that a person you’ve never had an actual conversation with to hand you a post-doc. If you are interested in learning more about their group, present your goals and intentions but ask if you can talk or meet in person to learn more about their research, and for them to learn more about you, before you can expect much else more out of the networking relationship.
3. Network layer
This is where things get more complicated in the OSI model: it becomes managing multiple nodes of information and routing information to and from the right places. After the initial contact, there will be a lot of back and forth about your problem and where to go forward. At this stage you probably won’t get a direct answer to your question or request, but may instead hear things like “Oh, so have you worked with Professor Smith?” “Did you read the paper by Smith et al 2014 on this topic?” The key here is to use your information and your connections to further expand your base network and increase your knowledge of potential contacts, focusing on suggestions and connections suggested by other colleagues.
4. Transport layer
Once you’ve established a larger base network in step 3, you can have a more reliable movement of requests/data/information between yourself and your base network. You can then reach out to people and get more specific information on how to do what you are setting out to do and who you should be talking to. At this stage you’ll also have better luck with expanding your network further and for requesting more things like jobs or ongoing collaborations, because once people have established trust with you they are more likely to pass on your messages and requests, or forward along contact information to other colleagues, if they have some knowledge of you and your goals. The goal here is to establish a trusted connection between you and your contacts by demonstrating that you are a trustworthy, connected, and reliable person. This will enable you to take off in the next steps to grow these relationships even further.
5. Session layer
With a set of trusted contacts in mind, you can now arrange a purposeful communication session: schedule a meeting on skype or at a conference to discuss research, draft a proposal for a grant, or ask about a research position. As in the OSI model, this will involve a lot of information exchange back and forth, so be ready to manage a lot of input coming in as well as meaning output being sent to them. With this step, you should be ready for a purposeful discussion that will lead you to your goal, and while the actual meeting doesn’t have to be 100% focused on the topic at hand, you should strive to achieve a result from this interaction by setting out with a goal and purpose for the meeting.
6. Presentation layer
In OSI, this is where data gets translated, and for you and your contact this is where you both can showcase your ideas, ambitions, and intentions. Aim for clarity in the discussion: be sure that you know exactly what you’re getting out of the exchange, whether it be a collaboration or grant application or job, and that your continued interactions with your contact are also clear from this step forward. Have a plan for what you want to say, listen closely to your contact, and define the means in which you’ll both move forward together.
7. Application layer
At this stage you’ve achieved high-level connectivity, and by doing so have achieved your original goal set out when you started your initial networking strategy. Whether this is a collaboration, a job, or a purposeful discussion about a paper with a new colleague, it’s the start of a continued deeper discussion between you and your new connection. The key with achieving your goal is to avoid skipping layers: you need to gain trust from connections beyond a quick handshake at a conference dinner, and you need to an appropriate venue and agreement on objectives and goals before you can pitch a grant proposal. Achieving the required trust, context, and clarity won’t get you a job or a paper 100% of the time, but it will certainly help. They key is to remember that you must build up a network of people who trust you and who understand you and what you’re doing, which is why it’s always recommended to do this earlier in your career rather than later.
So now that we’ve covered the networking framework, I’ll share a few practical tips to get you started. These tips and tricks have helped me, a natural introvert who shies away from crowds and speaking out loud to omuch, to gain a wide network of colleagues and collaborators that I’ve met through conferences, advisory councils, and late-night scientific cocktails. One advantage of introverts is that we are good listeners, and as you’ll learn when you start talking to others about science is that people love to talk about their work and themselves. So the first piece of advice: let them talk!
- Don’t be afraid to just say ‘hi’: Especially if you don’t know someone well, don’t feel like your first interaction has to be very formal or have some over-arching goal like a post-doc. If you have someone’s contact information, or bumped into each other at a workshop and didn’t have a chance to talk but you want to learn about the person more, don’t be afraid just to email them and say that you’re interested to learn more about what they do and who they are as a scientist.
- Plan ahead: Especially if you’re meeting someone at a large conference, set a date and time to catch up with them, even if it’s just a casual discussion. It will help you make sure the meeting actually happens, as with conferences people tend to get busy and pulled each and every way to talks or meetings with colleagues. If you want to keep it more informal, go for a coffee or a walk instead of a sit-down meal or a relaxed after-conference drink, since it gives you more flexibility in terms of scheduling and is less of a time commitment for both of you.
- Keep it casual but make sure you get to business when you need to: Especially when meeting someone more formally for the first time, don’t start the conversation too direct. Talk about the conference, the city, the latest loss/win of a local sports team etc., etc. Making connections is as much about getting someone to respect your work and your professional persona as much as it is having a person like you and feel comfortable around you. Break the ice as need be, then to avoid making the conversation too long-winded (especially for busy professionals) get straight down to the matter at hand in a clear yet un-rushed way.
- Ask good questions: People like to talk and to be listened to, so obviously asking questions is the best way to get people excited about a topic. At the same time, you’ll get to learn more about them, how they think, what is exciting for them in terms of research, etc. Knowing someone better by hearing their side of the story, and letting that person share their story, can make your relationship one built on trust and understanding, not just mutual scientific interest.
- Be ready: You may only get a short amount of time for your meeting, so be ready to say what you want and have a clear purpose or aim for your discussion. Obviously you shouldn’t bust out the notecards (might make it seem a bit too rehearsed), but prepare a couple of take-home sentences ready to fire off. This is especially good if you end up having to give a ‘elevator talk’, or telling a summary of what you do and what you want to do in a matter of 30 seconds or less. Being prepared will make your time count and your message stand out, even when the other person heads home after a busy week at the conference.
-S tart now, no matter what stage you’re at: Building a network and establishing trust will take time, so starting early in your academic career will make it easier when you are actually looking for a job. Get involved with your favorite scientific society, or outreach groups in your university, and start talking to everyone and everyone about your research and your goals. You never know where you’ll find the connection that will lead you to your next job, or how a quick conversation about rugby and mass spectrometry can lead you to landing your dream job. Start now and cast a wide net for the best results!
Apart from a lot of persistence and a dash of optimism, there is no perfect formula for networking. Some attempts will pan out, other connections will fade out quickly, and people you randomly talked to might surprise you by connecting you to someone with the golden ticket for your career. By thinking about how to build connections, using the Internet as an analogy, and approaching new colleagues and collaborators in an open, engaging, and well thought-out manner, you can build a network of trusted peers who will trust you back and help put you somewhere you’re aiming to be. So best of luck and happy networking, and for those of you heading to SETAC Salt Lake City, your first drink at the opening reception* is on me!
*Drinks at the opening are usually free at SETAC (and hopefully still are, otherwise I’m soon to go broke!)
A tutorial for the five easy* steps for a perfect** presentation: Making a storyboard, introduction, and the hook
In previous posts I laid out five (plus/minus one or two) easy* steps for developing a scientific presentation. For today's post I'll be going into more detail about the preliminary work that you should do before you set off on making a perfect** presentation. As an added bonus, you'll get a sneak-preview of my presentation at the upcoming Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) North American annual meeting located in the ever chic and always stylish capital of Utah, Salt Lake City. So not only do I get a blog post from my efforts, I'll have already put some time and effort into my talk before I get to the meeting. That's what we call in science a win-win situation, and in my case even better than free pizza at a seminar you were already actually planning on going to.
*Easy: Remember that nothing good in life comes that easy, as evidenced by the fact that I spend 3 hours making 4 slides for this talk.
**Perfect: In the end I'll probably end up getting nervous and making a sarcastic comment about how my bipolar membranes look like lollipops, but that's OK, because the story is what’s important and the story is what they’ll remember.
Step 0. Make a story board
For my SETAC presentation, I get 12 minutes for the talk and 3 minutes for questions and answers. Following the presentation rule of thirds means the first 1/3 is background/broad appeal, the second 1/3 is in-depth details and concepts for people in my field, and the last 1/3 is my novel contribution to the field. Because of this, I printed out blank Powerpoint slides in groups of four. I'll focus on having 4 minutes of background information/introduction, 4 minutes of detail-oriented methods and ideas relevant for my results, and 4 minutes of my actual results. It may sound like a small amount of data, but having given a good overview of the big picture of my project, as well as a bit more in-depth review of relevant methods will make the data I show more clear and understandable, and therefore more memorable.
With my storyboard printed and ready to go, I started off by going back to the original conference abstract to make sure I set off to present what I said I was going to present. I started with putting two things in my mind: the objective of the work to present in my talk and my audience. Writing down your objective again before starting on slides helps focus your mind on the bigger picture of what you want to present. In my case, the objective of the data for my talk is focused on the molecular mechanisms of narcosis toxicity and developing new screening tools for different classes of narcotic chemicals (as part of my post-doc project with Unilever). My audience in this case is one I know quite well: SETAC regulars who will be coming to the session on '-Omics technologies and their real-world applications.' There will be quite a few people in this audience that I'll know personally, and others whose work I'll be mentioning in my slides. No pressure!
With my audience and objective laid out, I set to work on the slides. Following the rule of thirds, I started off with background information/broad appeal, to get everyone on the same page. While most of this audience will know about concepts like gene expression, risk assessment, and adverse outcome pathways, I want to make sure that someone popping over from an environmental chemistry session will also be able to follow along. At the same time my subject area is not one of the hotter topics at SETAC, so a bit of background in terms of biology and relevance is necessary here.
I decided to start off my talk with a description of narcosis toxicity. As I said, this isn't a hugely hot topic in my field, so I planned on making the first two slides as an opportunity to teach anyone in the audience who hasn't heard it much before. I split this into two parts, one focusing on the basics/textbook toxicology concepts of narcosis, and the second going into more details on recent papers and new understandings. Here I also sketched out what to put on each slide, including my lollipop-esque membranes, and what figures from the literature I wanted to include.
So now that I've put everyone on the same page about what narcosis is, I'll then present the specific problem I'm looking into, in this case the lack of understanding of the molecular mechanism of toxicity. This will be in the context of work done by senior scientists who will most likely be in the audience, so I've made a note to cite their work. This brings in concepts that I discussed in more detail in Step 1 of the perfect** presentation, where you get people's attention by describing a problem in your field, why that problem is important, and then in the next slides how you solve it. For this talk I present the problem and then talk about how knowing mechanisms of toxicity are relevant for accurate risk assessments for chemicals, especially narcotics. Hook, line, and sinker!
At this point I've now laid out the objective of my project, the specific questions I'm asking, and how they will address the issues I presented in the introduction. This slide (#5) also comes at a time where I am transitioning between background information and getting into the nitty gritty of my project. You can skip trying to decipher my bad handwriting and read more about Step 2 and how you present setting out to solve the problem you just talked about.
After the transition slide and describing my project's objective and questions, I then go into a bit more background information to provide context for the data which I'll show next. This includes one slide (#6, see panel above) on how high-throughput molecular techniques can help address these questions, and one slide (#7) on my model system and why we chose it, including background information of toxicity of narcotics in my model system. I then give a schematic of my experimental design and will talk here about the analytical methods I'll be presenting. I also made a note to myself to make an 'emergency' slide with details of one of the methods of my project. As its only a small part of what I'm doing but something that a few people might question, I'll make a slide to have at the end in case I get a question after the main part of the talk.
So with those eight slides I'm now 2/3 done with my talk. The last four slides will be data and conclusions, and to prevent any earth-shattering findings from escaping into The Internet too soon (and to motivate any SETAC meeting attendees to actually come to my talk, on the last day of the conference in the late afternoon!), I'll save those sketches for when I make the real thing.
Step 1. Set the stage and Step 2. The Hook
To give you a sense for how the introduction slides actually ended up looking, apart from my terrible scribbling, here are how they turned out so far. I added animations in the actual presentation so the content doesn't all come up at once, which also allows what I say and the components of each slide to come together in a more logical progression. As an aside, I have no idea the appropriate color for biological membranes, so I am currently thinking of new ways to see if I can make a bipolar membrane not look like blueberry lollipops. To be determined for the next blog post.
As you can see, there's a lot you can convey with lollipops and arrows, and remember that at the same time that your slides will be on screen you'll also be speaking (as scary of a concept as that seems). Think about how your words and your slides can work together, and keep to a minimum any redundant or unnecessary text as well as figures or diagrams that may be too detailed or too small to see or understand clearly. Before jet-setting off into your experimental design, take a slide to transition from introduction to experimentation while at the same time giving your audience a clear vision of what you are doing and what scientific questions you are answering (e.g. the hook).
While I've touched briefly on some of the last three steps while working on my storyboard (the story, take a bow, and break a leg), we'll save a more in-depth analysis of these for when we get closer to the actual meeting. It will also give me a chance to finish making my data slides, and to practice my talk before giving the real thing to a live, scientific audience, including but not limited to collaborators, experts in the field, and potential future employers. Again, no pressure. Until next time, happy storyboarding!