One of the great things about being scientists is that we are lifelong learners. Scientists go to a lot of seminars, meetings and conferences. The traditional, hour-long seminar is also a great way to learn a lot in a relatively short time.
So it continues to amaze me how most scientists don’t take advantage of one of the greatest opportunities of a public seminar—the opportunity to meet others that share similar interests.
I have continually made the following observation. 10 minutes before I am scheduled to speak, I am in the front row waiting for the seminar room to fill. It never fails. Almost every scientist will enter the room, take a cookie and sit down at least one seat away from any other human being. Sometimes people entering in pairs will sit directly adjacent to one another, but not always. The room will be hushed, except for cookie eating.
Recently, before I started another presentation, I tried a little experiment. I asked everyone to get up and make sure they were sitting directly next to someone. It was like magic—the room became noisy with chatter as people greeted one another and introduced themselves to the person next to them. I actually had to shush the crowd to get started.
Scientists routinely complain about how hard it is to find time to network and how “unnatural” it is to introduce themselves to a stranger. Yet they continually miss out on an opportunity on a weekly basis.
Seminars provide the perfect opportunity to meet someone new who likely shares your interests. When you sit down next to someone you don’t know, it is the most natural thing in the world to say hello, introduce yourself, and ask where the other person works. If you are attending the same talk, there is a high likelihood that you will have more than enough in common to start a conversation quickly. On the other hand, when you sit down one seat away, it is like wearing a T-shirt that says, “Don’t talk to me, I am not interested in you.”
Make a rule for yourself—vow to sit next to someone you don’t know (or don’t know well) at least once a week. You will be amazed at how quickly this will provide you with a wider network of colleagues and potential collaborators.
This might also be a good strategy if you are single and looking for a partner, but that is advice for a different blog.