Conference reflections: the importance of networking and following up on the conversations

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål

Blog by: Merethe Skårås (PhD candidate) and Professor Halla B. Holmarsdottir (Head of PhD program)

Having just returned from the annual Comparative and International Education Society conference in Vancouver, Canada we were thinking about the importance of the networking that takes place at conferences. While there certainly are a number of reasons to attend academic conferences and more importantly international conferences, for instance, promoting your research and getting it out there and of course promoting yourself as a researcher and establishing yourself within a field, the opportunity to network for us is an important part of the conference experience.

For both of us, Halla B. Holmarsdottir head of the PhD program in Teacher Education and Merethe Skårås a PhD candidate in the program, networking is important, but works in different ways. The conference is in one way or another all about networking, networking and networking. It takes a lot of energy and it is not always easy to know how to go about it. There are two main channels for networking: the first is networking in person; the second is networking through social media.


Merethe: Regarding in person networking, first it is very useful to attend the conference with a senior colleague. I attended my first international conference (the annual CIES conference in 2015 in Washington DC) with Halla B. Holmarsdottir, the new leader of the PhD-program in Teacher Education at Oslo and Akershus University College (HiOA). Halla B. Holmarsdottir has been attending CIES conferences since she was a first year PhD student in 2001 and through the years she has developed a big network. For me it was a good opportunity to have Halla introduce me to several CIES colleagues who again introduce me to their colleagues. This is a fruitful way to meet people in the field. However, it is also beneficial to move on your own, with no senior professor or even PhD student colleagues. This will allow for new relationships with colleagues specifically interested in the same theme as you. You might even see that a specific group of individual scholars attends the same sessions as you. After a few days, you become a kind of “family”. I found my “family” among those doing research in South Sudan. In CIES there are not many members doing work specifically in South Sudan, but it was an opportunity to meet all of them at the sessions discussing South Sudan. This is the most valuable networking, not only for me as a PhD-candidate , but also for senior academics.

There are now also other ways we as academics network, which is becoming more and more common and that it social media networking. When it comes to social media networking I experienced the usefulness of tweeting at the conference. It helps build a network of researchers interested in my research and related topics. By making myself visible, these researchers show interest through twitter and often will follow me on social media, thus following me also after the conference. This is certainly useful if you manage to keep tweeting also after the conference ends. Pick up central hashtags used by other conference participants, as it might enrich the experience of the conference. Tweets highlight academic statements from sessions that can be of interest both while in the conference but also after.

Halla: Attending the conference together with students from the PhD program was important to not only promote the work being done at HiOA, but to also introduce our new scholars to the field itself and to important people working in the field. For me networking during such confernces is useful in developing new research applications, planning joint writing projects and also to planning and inviting new guest lecturers to the PhD program in Teacher Education. Thus, for me I am able to develop ideas with those doing similar research, but also to look for new academic colleagues in the field in general. For Merethe her network at these conference have involved PhD candidates like herself, but attending the conference has also introduced her work to a number of seasoned academics in the field. I think getting to know other PhD students around the world has been very useful for Merethe as these individuals usually have time to discuss common research. Last, but not least we highly suggest attending the conference receptions, move around and chat with people you meet. Going to these receptions is a networking occasion where you might have a chance to meet a wider audience. Before going to the receptions think ahead and plan to try to meet a few key people. At receptions, people are more relaxed and open up easily to conversations. Plan to attend with a few people so you are not left standing alone or if you are with your adviser or a senior academic use them to help break the ice and to help make new acquaintances. Small talk is good and not just focusing on your research or on negative aspects of your university or being a PhD student, but also if the conversation does move to politics or other issues be prepared to “go with the flow” of the conversation. Some of my best networking moments have come from conference receptions or conference dinners!

When it comes to social media networking I have also used social media throughout the conference both twitter and the social media hub provide by FHI360. The use of this provides exposure for your work and opens up another platform to share your work and research results with a wider audience.

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