Tuesday, April 29, 2014

xBio ASPET Blogging: Behavioral Pharmacology and NeuropharmacologyDivisions Joint Mixer

Figure 1: I'll never forget their names, now! 
Today was a whirlwind of science, networking, and laughs. I have never had so much fun at a scientific mixer as I did tonight (Figure 1). I'll share with you how it went down and maybe you can learn a little about networking. Just so you don't get bored, I'm going to promise you mustaches, Doctor Who, sunglasses as an icebreaker, and mullets. Well, one mullet.

My night started off by wussing out and taking a taxi to the Marriott Marquis. What can I say? My feet hurt. A lot. I walked into the hotel and promptly got lost. I stumbled across the ASPET office and pleaded with them to guide me to the mixer. Thanks, Jim Bernstein for pointing me in the right direction!

Made it to the mixer and beelined for the food. Here's the thing, the Behavioral Pharmacology Division Mixer always has fantastic food and a lot of it. Even if I wasn't a behavioral pharmacologist I would go to their mixers for the food. I assume the Neuropharmacology Division has similar food goals because tonight did not disappoint. There was a buffet of sidewalk style tacos (chicken and/or beef) and all the delicious toppings. I'm not gonna lie, I probably could've eaten about six of those puppies. There was also a fresh veggie station - Isis would be proud.

Networking Tip #1:
Never be afraid to just walk up to people... but it is easier if you have a "reason". My reason was a plate of food in one hand and a sweater in the other and needing to eat the food without resorting to a hands-free pigout. Found one of those standing tables with some room open and asked if I could use it. Boom, I met two people. Those two people introduced me to two other people. Someone else randomly walked up and started talking to us so there was one more.

Networking Tip #2: 
In science, starting the conversation is easy: "Where are you from? What do you study? What year are you?" You'll often find that, especially at specialized mixers, the world is a smaller place than you realize. Just tonight I met two different people who knew at least one alumnus of my program and two people whose research somehow had something in common with mine. Another was briefly in the same lab with this friend of mine, Scicurious.

Networking Tip #3: 
Show your interests. Just like clients going to Sherlock Holmes for help, networking shouldn't be boring. If you're a Doctor Who fan and you see someone with a kick ass TARDIS phone cover, tell them it's awesome. They'll likely show you just how geeky they are by playing all their Doctor Who-related ringtones and then you can discuss all the other nerdy shows you like and get recommendations. This is especially helpful if you recently finished watching every single Star Trek TV show and movie every made (except the animated ones) and need something new. Stargate.

Networking Tip #4:
Figure 2: I swear it was this glorious.
Don't be afraid to mention random or only tangentially-related things if you're getting the vibe that these people you just met a few minutes ago would totally appreciate learning about the International Mustache Film Festival or seeing a picture of the awesome mullet you sported in kindergarten (Figure 2). Sure, it's a form of breaking the ice but we don't need to make it sound cheesy and boring when it's actually fun. Impromptu prom picture sharing led to an eerie moment where the woman standing next to me had her Facebook open to show the aforementioned mullet but also had a picture of her in the exact same prom dress my son's girlfriend wore the other night. Whoa.

Networking Tip #5:
Mingle. It sounds harsh, you just met some really cool people doing interesting research that happen to have some other things in common with you and now you need to go start over with someone new? Yes, yes you do. Conversations always have a lull and, at some point, you need to rip yourself away from your new friends (yes, networking can make friends as well as colleagues and collaborators). Here's where Tip #2 comes back into play. Alternatively, you can come up with other networking icebreakers like one girl in our group did. She noticed there were a couple people in the room with sunglasses on their head so she dug her sunglasses out of her purse, plopped them on her head, and introduced herself to them.

Not every networking attempt is going to end in hilarity and friendships and that's ok. Some networking attempts turn into deep scientific conversations that challenge your thinking or become the seed for a collaboration; some are like pulling your teeth trying to find something you have in common; some are just ok. The point is to grow your web. You never know when you'll run across the people again but it might mean the difference between walking into a room where you don't know anyone to recognizing a face or a name and having someone to talk to while you adjust to a new networking situation.


  1. Great article! I definitely use most of the networking tips you mentioned at conferences. First time in 4 years missing ASPET Mol. Pharm. Division mixer :( Good times!

  2. I had a great time meeting you Katie! Your blog is awesome!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Elaina! What a bummer that you missed the mixer!

    Blaine, thanks! I had a great time meeting you as well. I look forward to bumping into you again. :-)