"You can dream. You can create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world… but it requires people to make the dream a reality." -Walt Disney
This quote from Walt Disney, which I found fitting given this year’s Orlando location for Scientific Sessions, captures an important message I’ve heard repeated throughout the day: meeting people through networking is an invaluable component of conference participation.
Meaningful advances in biomedical research no longer occur in isolation but rather are products of fruitful collaborations; so taking your research further, especially if you’re an Early Career Investigator trying to transition to independence, will require building a cadre of collaborators (and mentors) through networking. For an Early Career Investigator who has not yet gained international recognition for his or her work, networking at a large biomedical conference such as AHA’s Scientific Sessions may seem daunting. However, both Early Career and Senior Investigators at today’s Poster Sessions and the ATVB Women’s Leadership Committee Networking Luncheon insist that the effort is worth the pay off. Their advice, which I personally find helpful, is outlined below.
Don’t be shy. Go ahead and introduce yourself
After finishing an intense year of clinical training in nephrology, I went to Kidney Week (American Society of Nephrology) and AHA’s Scientific Sessions for the first time in 2013. I remember feeling quite lost and intimidated by the number of concurrent sessions, the even larger number of scientists and clinicians in attendance, and the vague feeling that I should be trying to make connections. I was so awestruck by the presence of research celebrities at both meetings that I never mustered the courage to speak to these preeminent investigators; in retrospect, this was a major mistake. As stated by Phillip Owens, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine: “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you put yourself out there? A PI may say ‘no’ to having time to chat, but so what? If they do talk to you though, you could make an important connection for your research.” If Dr. Owens has convinced you to start networking, Quin Denfield, a PhD candidate at Oregon Health & Science University, has this additional advice for other Early Career Investigators experiencing Sessions for the first time: “Take the time to try to meet presenters face to face if you are interested in their work and in establishing a collaboration. They will remember you better if they put a face to your name; this is more effective than just sending an email later.”
Present your work. If you have to choose, choose networking over waiting for that Nature paper to be published
According to some PIs, you may not establish connections for future job positions if you hold on to your data for the years it would take for such a high impact publication. “Present, present, present. Get your work out there so that people know who you are and can help you either with your project or with future job prospects,” said a PI at the ATVB luncheon. Michal Handzlik, a PhD candidate at the School of Life Sciences in the United Kingdom, feels that he has benefitted tremendously from presenting his abstract at Scientific Sessions, where he has received constructive feedback for the work he presented, gained new ideas for taking his project forward, and has even established new collaborations with senior investigators who have been supportive and enthusiastic of his work.
Go to poster sessions, even on days when you’re not presenting
Poster sessions are natural places for people to network and talk about research. They provide the perfect opportunity for you to ask questions that may be helpful to your own work, and often PIs are willing to share their protocols. Dr. Owens also recommends going to these sessions and other events with your research or career mentor, as they may be able to make introductions or pave the way for you to ask questions that are helpful to you.
Go to Early Career events
For Rihab Hamed-Berair, a PhD candidate at the University of Louisville, this year is her first time attending Scientific Sessions, and her favorite aspect of the meeting so far has been the Early Career Programming as she felt those sessions provided a natural avenue for talking about specific career development topics with more senior PIs as well as other Early Career Investigators. I too have been struck by how willing and enthusiastic more senior mentor figures in the AHA community are to help those of us who are trying to jump start our careers, with specific advice that may require a separate blog entry in the future.
Follow up after Scientific Sessions with an email
After making a strong impression on other meeting attendees through your networking efforts, don’t forget to follow up with an email thanking the new members of your professional network for chatting with you. This additional step can solidify those connections for you and pave the way for continuing your dialogue.
I look forward to more networking opportunities at tomorrow evening’s Early Career Receptions for the ATVB and FGTB Councils and hope to see many of you there!
Jennie Lin, MD
Nephrology Post-Doctoral Fellow
University of Pennsylvania Health System
Jennie is an Instructor of Medicine in the Renal, Electrolyte, and Hypertension Division within the Department of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Her research interests include an interdisciplinary, functional genomics approach to studying 1) macrophage biology in cardiometabolic diseases and 2) acute kidney injury.