Okay, the term “Humanities youngster” is not from me, it was used from a professor to describe what I am – young, early career stage, PhD candidate, devoted to Humanities. Well, actually, he called me first a Classics youngster, but then admitted that there are some things that are correct for all Humanities people – not just us classicists.
We sat down, had a cup of decent coffee (I am sorry, Great Britain, coffee is not your strength – I love tea, yes, but sometimes, it has to be coffee)… Okay, the coffee was decent enough, actually, the best to find near campus and the conference location. We talked about – yes, the bad coffee, but hey, the Congress Ale was great – and the talks we have heard so far and what we found interesting and what was rather awkward or really bad, because of the poor speaker’s nervosity. There are really bad talks out there, so, don’t you worry, dear Conference-Newbies (if you want, check my post on Conferencing!), a lot of people don’t like to talk in front of a group.
But this is not our topic here – we are going to talk about networking. Actually, what I just described – the professor, the coffee, the talking – is considered as one form of networking. When you are going to conferences, and you give a paper or a talk, you will get questions in a discussion round, some of your listeners will even want to chat with you in the coffee break (no matter how horrible the so-called coffee is, it is always called coffee break… a mystery).
So, you see, some networking things are just easy going. But, You know of course that at the same conference there are really famous scholars of your very own field. And yes, you will certainly go to their talks and just experience them live on stage. Next step: Talk to them. Sure, you can do that.
If not in discussion, try to ask one question in the coffee break. You have a lot of them, am I right? And believe me, people at conferences are used to the fact that a lot of people just come by and talk to them, asking them questions of their current as well as on published research. Conferences are an enormously important part in research. Research and new ideas function with the element of talking about it: the problems, the possible solutions, the results.
I know that it is not easy to just go to a very famous researcher and just start to talk. How to do it right? We had this question in one of our seminars for early career researchers: How to start smalltalk at a conference?
And… suprisingly, our coach came up with this meme:
This one has actually gone viral, but – the 4-step-process is quite clear. (By the way, if you do not know the movie or the book, shame on you, go watch and/or read it, it is awesome! And yes, there is a book!)
So, let’s imagine a situation with your absolute idol in your field of study.
Coffee break, a lot of people.
You: Excuse me, you are Mr./Ms./Prof./Dr. Famous? –> polite greeting
F(amous): Yes, I am. Nice to meet you, Mr./Ms. …?
You: My name is Archaeogirl, I am working/studying at the University of Pure Awesomeness. –> name
F: Oh, I have never been there, but they say it is a lovely city.
You: It is, indeed. (Never forget to smile!) I have read your recent book “Famous stuff”/article “How to find famous stuff with a very famous method/theory”. I am working on “the other famous method” for my PhD thesis and I am wondering if you will answer me some questions? –> personal link and manage expectations
F: Oh, that is very interesting. I certainly will. Let’s grab a cup of coffee… Or maybe a glass of water, the coffee is not drinkable at all.
You: I have found a coffee shop near campus where they actually serve decent coffee. (And now you have certainly made a new friend!)
As with all the things you do the first time, you will be nervous as hell. It will get better with the times you tried, I promise. And if you knew some people and you are maybe attending always the same conferences as they are, they will remember you, introduce you to their colleagues etc. That is how the network starts.
But also your colleagues back home who started with you, are an important network. These people you have studied with, maybe be friends with, will be your first peers, e.g. for proof-reading your thesis or articles. You see, a network has different stages and positions, all of them are important and you have to cultivate them. Trust me, people who are going only for the big fish will make themselves very unpopular with their other colleagues and once in a while this will come back to them. Karma is a bitch – in academia too.
Conferences or wokshops are like a market place for us early career researchers of “Humanities youngsters”. We can win our first academic spurs, we can present our research, we can meet new and interesting people.
Your network will grow in time. Some people are very closely linked to you, others not that closely, and some are dealing even with different things from a nearby research area, but nontheless they are part of your network – and one day they will need you to introduce them to another famous scholar. Or they will need your own experience for a new interdisciplinary project. Who knows?!
So, gather all your strength, stay calm and where is this nice academic fighting spirit? Go out there to start and cultivate your network!
All the best –