Editor’s note: If you are traveling to an academic conference, IHS can help cover the cost with the Hayek Fund. Many graduate students tend to think that academic conferences are only about their conference paper. They turn up to give their paper, and leave (or act like a tourist for the rest of their time there). Networking at the academic conference is an afterthought, if the student thinks of it at all. This is a failure to understand that there is much more value to an academic conference than the paper. As I say, “the action is in the hallways, not on the panels.” Networking effectively at an academic conference is crucial to helping you highlight your scholarship and getting the most out of your time there. There are usually plenty of opportunities to socialize. Many organizations and universities host receptions, sometimes with an open bar and food—and the conference organizers usually hold a main reception. That being said, many people find networking difficult. Here are a few steps you can follow to ensure you’re going about it correctly.
Identify in advance who you want to meet.Look at the conference program online, and note relevant panels and speakers. Attend those panels, ask a question, give your name and institution, and talk to the speakers afterward. To break the ice, compliment them on their work and ask them questions about their research.
Get your own business cards.You can obtain these for free or at a low cost, and your department might even pay for them. If you meet someone you want to remain in contact with, you’ll be able to offer him or her your business card at the end of the conversation, and they will usually give you their own.
Develop a 30–second elevator speech.Always introduce yourself when you meet someone, including your full name and institution and a very brief introduction to who you are and what you do. For example:
I am Nigel Ashford at the University of Staffordshire and I work on Britain’s relationship with the European Union.This begins a conversation where you can discuss your background and work in more detail while getting to know the other person better as well.