Thoughts on my AGU experience

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgDon't tell my university administrators, but sharing my latest science results is only a tiny fraction of the reason to go to a conference like AGU. Even hearing the latest and greatest science is not the entire reason. This is a lesson that is taking me a long time to learn. I get giddy with the thought of all the cool science I want to take in at AGU. I plan my schedule full from 8 am to 6 pm with talk after talk and poster after poster. Since the work I do crosses several sub-disciplines, I am often forced to make difficult choices between competing timeslots. When I was a wee grad student I rushed madly from place to place, resulting in me being overwhelmed after about two days. And all the science I was trying to cram in to my brain ended up jumbled up and confused. Plus, I missed a major major point of scientific meetings. It's not the science, it's the meeting (people). As DrugMonkey says over and over again, it's all about the networking.

So this AGU, my poster was the excuse to spend the money on the plane ticket, hotel, registration and food. (San Francisco is not cheap!) And this AGU, I did listen to some really amazing scientific talks and read some excellent posters. But mostly, I wanted to talk to the movers and shakers and rising stars in my subdisciplines. I wanted to introduce myself or remind them of my presence. I wanted to put into their heads that I can do some exciting stuff (even if it isn't all ready for the prime time yet), and I wanted to spark idea of collaborations. What I want is this: the next time they think of a cool project to which I could contribute, I want them to think of, and then email, me. I want to break into the informal network of rising stars.

I don't know that I entirely accomplished my goal, but I think I accomplished enough. I've got a good list of people to follow up with over email. I've got plans and a co-conspirator to convene a session at a conference next year. I've got an idea for a proposal that sounded awfully fundable over wine and cheese. I think I may have made some headway with the rising stars - at least I've reminded them that I exist.

But, oddly, I think by the time I go to AGU next year, the poster is going to have to be a bigger part of the focus. This year's poster was a smallish side project that isn't entirely in line with my main planned research focus. Next year I think I really need to come to AGU with something substantive and something directly related to my main area of research interest. This year I talked a good talk, but next year I've also got to walk a good walk. And maybe then someone will consider me a rising star with whom they must network.

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w0000t! sounds pitch perfect SW!

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 20 Dec 2008 #permalink

Next year I think I really need to come to AGU with something substantive and something directly related to my main area of research interest.

Having done some partnership-trolling over the years, may I suggest:

Don't forget to scatter bait. Slant your pitch to suggest tantalizing opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration. As with any other kind of courtship half of the game is being available (but not hard up) and with more to offer than you're showing to the world.

Yeah -- go figure. Every time you think you've outgrown that stage in your life ...

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 20 Dec 2008 #permalink

As an emeritus professor, I say you are on the right track. But if you have to make the choice between drinking beer with an interesting group, and hearing some interesting papers, go drink beer. No one will remember you were in the audience, unless you stand up and make a cogent comment, and the abstract is available anyway. The personal contacts you make at meetings are, in fact, the most important aspect. Do, by all means, a poster, or a talk, or organize a symposium. Exhibit yourself so people will want to drink beer with you.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 20 Dec 2008 #permalink

I second the drinking of beer (vs. going to talks) - or the having of lunch, or the chatting over coffee, or whatever. I find the people I meet with that way are much more likely to remember the conversation than the ones I meet at a poster (even with a beer in hand).

Chat with someone at a poster session, and they're probably thinking more about the person behind you who might have a question (or thinking of moving away from your poster on to the next one). Chat with a group of people over a lovely beverage, and you're more likely to make an impression (for good or bad).

I third the suggestion of having beer (or other beverage of your choice) with interesting people. Networking is the most important thing about the meeting.

Also, if you have to choose between going to interesting talks and seeing interesting posters, always (unless the talk is your own, of course) choose the posters. I get much more out of posters than I do from talks, because I have a chance to talk with the author about the poster and think of relevant questions I can ask in real time (there is never enough discussion time in oral sessions). Besides, I can seldom get through more than four or five talks without starting to zone out.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 Dec 2008 #permalink

Always go drink beer (well I don't drink, but I do hang out those that do)

esp. in the past several years, I have found the talks at most (all) meeting I have attended to be mostly masturbatory nonsense, posters are hit and miss (but good place to network), but the informal gab is where I really find out what is happening in the field and build collaborations for future ideas.

I agree with all the commenters above that the informal social settings are where really important things occur, but these comments all assume that you get invited to the social hour in the first place. Getting that invitation is where networking like heck at the poster sessions and during breaks is really important.