Alaina G. Levine is live from the Lindau Conference
Lindau is a special conference. Here, under the banner of Educate-Inspire-Connect, and above cobblestone streets, next to a city hall dating back to the 1400s, networking is very much encouraged, supported, facilitated and emphasised. And the networking here is precious, precious platinum.
From breakfasts with Nobel Laureates and business leaders from McKinsey, Mars and other multinational firms, to formal master classes in which the pupils have the chance to present for the Nobels, to the lavish Bavarian Night celebration on Thursday evening, the meeting ensures plenty of facetime with science celebrities.
And yet, here’s the precious thing – none of the Nobels act like celebrities. They are friendly, personable, and genuinely interested in hearing from early career scientists. That is the reason they keep coming back here year after year – the Laureates want to engage the bright shiny minds of the next generation of super hero scientists. They appreciate hearing their questions, listening to them describe their own research, and asking about their successes, challenges, and even failures. The Nobels are welcoming. They pose for pictures. They sign autographs. They smile.
You’d smile too, if you saw what I saw: here, the shyest scientists are emboldened. Throughout the week, I chatted with numerous young scientists who said they generally felt timid and introverted when confronted with senior leaders in their field. They don’t necessarily feel comfortable going up to a known expert at a technical conference and introducing themselves to him or her.
And yet at Lindau, when given the chance to network with a Nobel, they leap like lions. One classic exchange involved a body of theorists meeting a mass of experimentalists and cornering a Laureate behind a piano during the poster session. They peppered him with questions, gleefully interacted with him, and lit up the room with their enthusiasm, all the while as more young scientists migrated past the piano and added themselves to the mob. The Nobel? He laughed and grinned and increased his gesticulations to explain a physical idea. He was clearly having a pleasant moment.
So what’s the lesson? Don’t hesitate to network. Don’t hesitate to go up to Dr. Nobel – whoever that is in your professional situation – and ask them about their work and experiences. But if you’re uncertain as to how to launch your networking strategy, here are a few tips to get you started, from Lindau, for everyone:
- Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.
- Don’t worry about carrying the conversation – you can let someone else lead if you’re a networking newbie.
- That said, it’s still a good idea to come with a few questions prepared for some of the people you’re hoping to meet. You could ask them about what they are working on now, what they enjoy about it, and what advice can they give you.
- Don’t forget to follow up. Whenever someone gives you their email, you should feel free to correspond with them. This doesn’t mean you should get in touch every day with your new favourite emoji, but make sure to keep contacts informed of your progress, ask them occasional questions if you need to, and offer to be of assistance in some form or fashion.
Networking itself is a true privilege and an honour. It’s always nice talking to someone with a shared passion, and here at Lindau – where we all get to speak with world leaders in the field – that feeling is amplified. Does the networking end? Not likely. The students here are making connections that could last a lifetime; with each other, with the leaders, with the community. The effect and impact are far-reaching. Because, you know, this is Lindau. This is #NerdHeaven.
Alaina G. Levine is a science writer, science careers consultant, professional speaker and corporate comedian. She is the author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), which was named a top 5 Book of 2015 by Physics Today. Contact her via her website or follow on twitter.
The author expresses appreciation to the organizers of the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings for a partial travel fellowship to attend.
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