I’m off to a conference this week. Hopefully it’ll be fun times. I know it’ll be stressful times. And not a lot of sleep times. 🙂
What I’m really looking forward to, is getting a chance to meet up with some friends that I don’t get to see often, as we no longer (or have never) live in the same city. I’ve been a grad student for so long now, that lots of the other grad students I originally met and became friends with have graduated. Some are postdocs, some are working in industry, and some have become faculty(!).
On this trip, I’m going to get a chance to see at least one (hopefully two) friends who use to be grad students with me. And lots of other friends who are also grad students but they attend different universities.
Networking at conferences is important. And usually it’s framed in terms of meeting with faculty or industry partners. And there’s not as much talk about networking among other grad students. Which is a shame, because I think this is just as important. Sure, other grads aren’t as likely to be on hiring committees if you’re looking fore a faculty job, but they may go off and make a start up or work for a company and can be an ‘in’ there.
But, the more important thing (in my opinion), is that all of these other students are the future of the field. Whether they end up in academia or not, they will hopefully continue to pursue work somewhat related (maybe only by field, and not area) to what they did for the grad work. And so when you’re looking for those future collaborators down the line, these former fellow students may be exactly who you need to connect with.
The best thing about networking with other grad students? It’s way easier than other networking. First of all, you have easy topics to get people going – grad school itself. I don’t think you can get two or more grad students together without some part of the conversation moving onto grad school (either venting or just sharing stories). Second, you’re likely closer in age, which just makes connecting easier. And third, it’s easier to go out with a group of grad students. You all know you’re all (relatively) poor, and so the discussion as to where and what people will order is so much simpler. 🙂
At most conferences I end up at, I find grad students naturally sort of drift towards each other. Grad students are also more likely to understand if you feel slightly out of place (common if this is your first time at the conference and you don’t know any or many people) and they either feel that way too, or have felt that way before. Most of the cross over interaction (between grad students and faculty) that I see involves the younger faculty, who know many of the grad students from when they were still a student. Ah, the circle of life. 🙂