By James Steur, a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
As MPSA 2020 fast approaches, my colleagues have talked to me about the part of conferences they dread more than their presentations: networking. Someone I know remarked, “I feel like an inauthentic version of myself networking, and the person I’m speaking with also feels like an inauthentic version of themselves.” Although networking can feel uncomfortable—especially for highly introverted people—there are ways to make the process more comfortable and authentic.
Scheduling a Meeting
The first step to make networking more comfortable is scheduling your meeting in advance: I suggest six to eight weeks of notice. One advantage of scheduling a meeting in advance is that you’re more likely to successfully meet busy scholars with full schedules. More importantly, more notice means more time to prepare what you’d like to talk about, which can help make the meeting feel less uncomfortable. That said, there are multiple ways to schedule a meeting with different people at MPSA.
Email is a simple and powerful tool to connect with scholars. If you want to meet with a faculty member or graduate student whose work you admire, check to see if they are on the MPSA program and email them. When you send the email, introduce yourself, provide some context about why you’re reaching out (e.g., similar research interests), and see if they’d be open to meeting for 15–30 minutes at MPSA. If you don’t get a response within a week, send a reminder email to check-in with them: people can get busy. If you don’t feel comfortable cold emailing someone, ask around your department and see if there’s a common connection to the person you’re emailing. Perhaps a faculty member or graduate student in your department went to the same school—establishing a common connection helps build rapport.
Twitter is a great (and often underutilized) way to meet with folks. Currently, there is a “take jr folks to lunch MPSA” Twitter thread with many senior and junior faculty members offering to take groups of graduate students to coffee or lunch to discuss the profession. Other faculty members and graduate students are tweeting outside the thread to meet with people and discuss topics like publishing, teaching, imposter syndrome, and other important topics. Keep your eyes peeled on Twitter before the conference, and reach out to meet with someone if a particular topic interests you. Last year, I reached out to a faculty member, got lunch with him and another grad student, and had a great time chatting. Alternatively, you can post your own tweet asking if anybody would like to meet for coffee or lunch at the conference and see who responds.
3). MPSA Networking Opportunities and Mentoring Panels
Beyond scheduling your own meetings, MPSA offers mentoring opportunities. You can attend the MPSA Mentoring Reception (held on Friday, April 17, from 6:30–7:30PM at the Palmer House) to meet with different scholars whose research interests align with yours. You need to sign up as a mentee to participate in the Mentoring Reception by March 16, so look at the mentor bios and sign up sooner rather than later. Another option is participating in the Academic Year Mentorship program. Both are excellent options for graduate students who feel less comfortable reaching out to network, and are great opportunities for faculty members to connect with younger scholars.
If this is your first time attending MPSA, I highly encourage you to attend the First Time Attendee Reception and Tour on Thursday, April 16, from 4:45–6:15PM. You can make great connections with others who are also new to the conference by signing up here.
Your meeting is scheduled: now what do I do at the meeting? How should I act? There are a few easy things you can do during the meeting to make a good impression: be on time, thank the person for meeting, ask how they’re doing, and bring a notepad to take notes if it seems appropriate. If you’re meeting in a group with multiple people, be respectful and let everyone speak. Domineering a group conversation can be disrespectful to others who may want to speak or ask questions. Relatedly, many people make a common mistake and act like they are meeting with old friends—remember you’re establishing a professional relationship. Perhaps the relationship can become a friendship, but the context of the meeting is at a professional conference to discuss research and other professional topics.
But how do I make this meeting less uncomfortable? My personal strategy is to ask myself, “Why was I interested in reaching out to this person?” The answers vary depending on the person: some people have written academic articles that shift how I think about the world, and I want to talk about how they come up with their ideas. I may be interested in a new method they used, or I’d like to learn more about how to engage in public scholarship. The bottom line is that I respect some aspect of their work, and I’m interested in learning more about them. Once I express my genuine interest in them and their work, the conversation and relationship feels more authentic and less uncomfortable.
After The Meeting
Like I mentioned in a post at last year’s MPSA, it is easy to lose touch after meeting. My strategy is to keep a professional network spreadsheet that reminds me who I have met, what we talked about, and their contact information. If you want to follow-up on something you discussed with them, you should feel comfortable sending an email or reaching out. That said, I would also be aware of how busy they are and not send too many emails.
In the end, networking doesn’t have to feel uneasy or uncomfortable. People are usually more than happy to meet with you and discuss professional topics like research if you reach out. The more you put yourself out there, the easier it becomes to network. So take the first step and reach out to chat with somebody at this year’s MPSA to establish an authentic connection and build your network.
About the Author: James Steur is a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen decision-making. He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging (for a second time!) at MPSA. You can find James on Twitter at @JamesSteur