Thursday, October 27, 2011

Advice from a post doc panel: Networking

I recently sat on a "looking for your post doc" panel. There was a lot said that was useful. This is my second post of selected questions and advice from the session. My first post is here.

I met a professor at a conference a couple months ago, and I would like to keep in touch with him/her so he/she doesn't forget me. But what should I say in this e-mail?

Do you have scientific content for this professor? If not don't write the e-mail. Some faculty members on the panel get 300 e-mails a day. If you don't have something interesting to say, you will probably be ignored. Worst case scenario, you may make a bad impression instead.

General advice about e-mailing professors?

If you do decide to e-mail a professor, keep it short.

If you had a scientific conversation with the person, he/she is likely to remember you years later when you are about to graduate and need a letter, with a little prodding about when/where you met and what you talked about. If you met the person over pizza and beer at a conference, he/she is less likely to remember you. In the former situation you should not hesitate to contact the person for a letter. Remembering you will not be the deciding factor in how they choose to respond.

When you do sign your name, put your FULL NAME down, as well as the name of your advisor. This is not about pedigree, but about putting yourself in context. That way if the professor needs a memory aid, they can look for your name at the appropriate institution, or have a good guess at the types of projects you may be interested in.

Have a webpage with your picture on it. This a good place for people to find your CV, papers, etc. It is also useful to those professors who are good with faces but not names.

How do I meet professors at conferences?

If a talk is interesting, but you don't have any well formed questions at the end of the hour, stand in the informal discussion group that often forms around the speaker at the end of the talk. Sometimes this discussion is at a lower level, and encourages questions. A student who is proactive in this type of participation is more likely to catch the eye of a more senior person, even if the student doesn't have a lot to contribute.

Getting to know graduate students is a good way to get to know their advisors.

What other types of networking should I do?

The fun part about job hunting is looking at a department web page and imagining yourself at the department. If there is a group or person there that you would like to work with, send them an e-mail. All the above rules for sending e-mails apply. In addition, do not give them too much personal information, but give them a sense of why you are interested in their work. Attach a CV and research summary. If you have preprints available on line, send them links. If you have a website, send a link.

If you are applying to a job in a different country than the one you grew up in, or the one you did your PhD in, make it clear that you really would be interested in living there for several years.

If the professor doesn't respond to the e-mail, don't be offended. It may mean they aren't interested. It may mean they don't respond to e-mails.

Compose a list of places/groups you would like to work with, and give it your advisors, or any faculty you have a good relationship with. Ask them to contact any people on that list that they feel comfortable writing.

If there is a particular place where you want to be, ask your letter writers to write a different letter for that place, speaking specifically to the institutions strengths and demands. Don't have too many of these, but 1 (maybe 2) is okay.

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