Written by: Jackie Hulina
Primary Source: Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability
When you’re deciding whether or not to approach someone you see as a rock star in your field, just take a deep breath and go do it.
The 74th Annual Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in Kansas City, Mo., was my first conference – a whirlwind of information, networking and free food from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day. I attended as many presentations as possible in the Bird Conservation & Management Symposium that were relevant to my research, and attended a few completely irrelevant presentations that just sounded interesting. In between, I went to workshops, planned coffee breaks, the Wild Jobs Café and social events. Somewhere in there, I managed to present about telecoupling and Kirtland’s warblers, too. Thank goodness I made such a detailed itinerary.
As much as I learned, the highlights of the conference were in networking opportunities. I practiced my elevator speech on someone in the elevator on the way to breakfast… and on people in line for the continental breakfast, looking at maps trying to figure out where a presentation was, and while uncovering fake dinosaur bones at a children’s exhibit in Science City.
The trick is to be fearless. You can prepare an elevator speech all you want, but it’s not going to do any good if you’re too afraid to speak up in the proverbial elevator. Like many scientists, I’m naturally an introvert, but nobody at the conference would believe that because I’ve learned how to be extroverted (I moonlight as a musician/actress). As a rule of thumb, I took risks – from asking if I could join a table of seasoned fisheries professionals who I didn’t know at the welcome social to running after the president of the Wildlife Society on the stairs to ask a question.
One thing that really struck me was the general attitude – every professional that I encountered said how the conference was really about supporting us, the students. Anytime I started talking with people, they would ask about my life goals and offer advice. Even better, they would offer to introduce me to colleagues with related interests.
Repeat elevator speech, and launch into another conversation.
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