More on Meetings

Morgan Price's Comment that I blogged on the other day about going to meetings had the following parenthetical end bit:

(Do I not get it because I don’t like going to meetings?)

Lots of people have talked about why go to meetings, and what's hard about them. The upshot was, learn to like going to meetings. Lots of good stuff. DM (natch) had something important to say:

drugmonkey : I think it also takes some time in the field for meetings to become less uncomfortable. The longer you've been going to the meeting(s) with the same old crowd, the more likely to have old friends swing by your poster, to see people in the coffee line to chat up, to go out to eat with. You are more comfortable getting up to make a comment at the microphone, to grab the person in the hallway to discuss your / their data and folks from the platform call you out when they know you can answer a question better than they can.

It's a bit self-reinforcing. Here's the logic: I am uncomfortable at meetings. So I don't like going. But when I do I'm even more uncomfortable so I don't see that I get anything out of them but feeling inadequate in whatever way. So I don't like meetings even more than I didn't like meetings before, and I can now justify the unimportance of meetings because I get nothing out of them.

But this is also self-correcting. If you do go to meetings, and go to meetings purposefully, you will start to meet people and you will have new friends for the next time. It took me a while to realize that yes, I'm going to have lunch alone and that's not as much fun as lunch with friends. But, gird your loins and talk to someone and invite yourself along. You can do a little homework in advance. Find a new young asst prof whose work you admire. Go up to them. Ask about their work. Ask to have lunch or coffee or dinner with them.


One good point Qaz  makes is science is dialog. My PhD advisor (indubitably rolling in hell at this very moment) used to say that science is not an edifice built brick by brick, and if I am your advisor, your thesis will not be a stone in that edifice. It is a living breathing entity, he said, that if one is lucky, one can grow with science and into science. The implication, of course, is that we were all very lucky to be growing with him. "Under his care" would imply an involvement on his part that did not exist.
Qaz's point about good presentations is also important. Put your best self forward. Posters in particular open up those opportunities for dialog. If no one is talking to you, make friends with the posters on either side of you, or across the aisle. That is someone with whom you can go have coffee next year.
My answer to M. Price is could be. We may not love all parts of science, but meetings, for all their pain are totally worth it. Good meeting experiences are totally different from reading papers. Here's qaz again:
Too often people treat meetings as glorified reading sessions, where they sit in the back and let the text be talked at them. The whole point of a meeting is to engage the other individuals.
That's real science.

2 responses so far

  • Ass(isstant) Prof says:

    My PhD advisor was an advocate for the practice of going to meetings. It was and continues to be beneficial, however uncomfortable it may be. I agree, though, the discomfort is indeed self-correcting.

    Things I have gained from scientific meetings, in no particular order:

    new perspectives
    new projects
    awesome postdoc advisor
    multiple senior colleague mentors (some oldsters are keen on youngsters being successful)
    travel to cool places
    did I mention collaborations?
    new friends

  • E-Rook says:

    I think the best similar experiences ..... in getting to know other investigators at other institutions and really delving into each others' data & projects .... is the times I've been visiting a city for an entirely unrelated reason and emailed Prof So-and-so. Told them I'd be in town for xyz reason, I read their recent 3 papers, and would they have time to talk over coffee? I've done the coffee thing, had lunch, given a talk, toured a group, and had individual meetings; at varying levels of enthusiasm and participation. I know that it's extremely forward for a scientist (perhaps a bit presumptuous), but the worst they can say is no (no one has yet), and putting myself in their shoes, I'd be happy to have an impromptu visit from someone.

    I have TRIED this sort of interaction at meetings, but I find that the people I want to talk to are so busy talking to their old friends. Or I can't think quickly enough on my feet to engage substantively. I have lunch alone (call the lab to check that it hasn't burned down), and (even worse) just going back to my hotel room to work.

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