Getting your name out there
People attend scientific meetings for many reasons. Some want to present their hard-earned findings. Some want to reconnect with colleagues they haven’t seen in a while. Some want to find collaborators who can help them solve a problem or take their work in a different direction. And some want to find their next jobs.
When the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology held its 2023 annual meeting, called Discover BMB, in Seattle, the most-attended workshop was “Building professional relationships.” The second and third most attended workshops were about career exploration and making a CV that stands out. Furthermore, the most popular career hub talk covered job-search strategies.
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The Discover BMB organizers know how important career-related programming and networking opportunities are to attendees, and our 2024 meeting in March in San Antonio is being designed to meet this demand.
When job seekers walk up to the registration booth in the convention center to pick up their meeting badges, they’ll be invited to also take a ribbon with a message that cuts to the chase: “HIRE ME.” (Hiring managers can wear one that says “I’M HIRING.”)
From that point on, opportunity awaits. Every interaction at a session, during a mixer or even while waiting in line for a cup of coffee at the snack bar has the potential to change the trajectory of your career.
But, just in case that perfect chance encounter doesn’t come your way, I want to point to a handful of programmed activities and tools that are meant to help you make meaningful connections.
Interest group sessions: These events attract people with similar research and pedagogical interests. You don’t have to be an expert on the topic or even have a track record of work related to it. You merely need to share an interest, show up, listen to the presentations and have conversations with other attendees. These are low-pressure events intended to help you broaden and deepen your professional network.
Meetups: These networking gatherings have multiple goals. One is to give people with shared research interests an opportunity to get acquainted or reconnect. Another goal is to set aside time for networking among affinity groups. At the meeting in Seattle, the most-attended meetup was for educators, and the other two most-popular meetups were for historically marginalized scientists. There are no presentations during these events, and you can move from meetups as you like.
Career hub events: Now, you might be thinking that sessions at the career hub will be filled with other job seekers who are competing with you for jobs. And you’d be partially right. But, there will also be lots of speakers, mentors at different career stages and hiring managers on hand to answer your questions and talk to you about your options. So, on top of getting good advice about, for example, how to tailor your application materials for biotech or science communication jobs, you’ll be making inroads with people already in those jobs. Chat them up, connect with them on LinkedIn and let them know you would be interested in conducting an informational interview with them later to help you prepare for your next steps.
Receptions: Don’t skip out on these events designed specifically for mingling. While it might be tempting to stick to a bistro table filled with people you know, this really is the time for you to, as they say, work the room. It’s not at all weird to approach that person whose work you admire or to strike up a conversation with someone wearing one of those “I’M HIRING” ribbons; it’s expected. That’s exactly why these events exist. Take advantage of them.
Exhibitor booths: You don’t have to be the person with the lab credit card to talk to exhibitors. Many of them were once just like you: a scientist wondering what kinds of jobs are out there. They’re expecting to answer questions from job seekers about career paths and openings at their companies or organizations. And, trust me, exhibitors are just as nervous as attendees; only they’re worried that people won’t be interested in their products and services. You’ll be doing them a favor if you go up to chat. They want to report back to their bosses that their booths had traffic.
Workshops: These events are meant to be interactive. You won’t be passively absorbing information. You’ll be doing hands-on stuff with others. But, don’t forget to look for connection opportunities during these activities. If you meet someone who might know things or people you’d like to know, exchange contact information or arrange a time to talk more later during the meeting. Group work builds bonds!
Mobile app: Yes, the meeting is full of opportunities for chance interactions, but remember the saying about making your own luck. You can use the meeting app to chat with or arrange an in-person meetup with hiring managers. Again, this is totally normal and expected at a professional conference; don’t hesitate to use the tools available to you. Be sure to complete your profile on the mobile app to indicate your career interests.
Job board: Sometimes a low-tech option is the most effective one, so be sure to stop by the job board in the exhibit hall. Employers will be posting their openings with the hope of meeting up with potential candidates during the meeting.
One-on-one mentoring: Maybe you don’t quite feel ready to start applying for jobs yet and just need to bounce some ideas off someone with more experience before taking the plunge. If that’s the case, schedule a session with a mentor. The one-on-one mentoring sessions in Seattle drew more than 100 attendees. In San Antonio, we’ll have mentors on hand who can help you no matter where you are on your path. They’ll look at your CV, teaching statement, specific aims and anything else you might have questions about.
These are just some of the programmed activities meant to help job seekers learn about career paths and meet the people who can hire them or help them get hired. There are many more opportunities — so many, in fact, that I strongly recommend making a schedule once the full meeting program is available.
And remember: It’s OK to ask for help. We are a community, and we come together at our annual meeting to advance not only our field but also one another. People want to help. You just have to ask.
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