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how to meet with a professor at a conference

It’s getting close to ASA, and you might be a grad student who wants to meet with a professor. That’s great! You should do it! Or you should at least try. Here are some tips for meeting professors at conferences. (By the way, it’s even better to try these at smaller conferences like SSHA or SSSR. ASA is crazy and huge and people’s schedules are often packed with all sorts of work and grad-school friends and collaborators and editors and all sorts of other stuff).

Before the Meeting

  1. Do it now. It’s not too late (a lot of folks are making their schedules now) but wait much later than now and a lot of folks will be pretty booked.
  2. Make sure the e-mail is friendly but also keep it formal.  As a rule, call people by their title (Professor X) until they sign their e-mail with a first name or you’re told to call them by the first name. Explain, in the e-mail, why you want to meet and how the author’s work has been helpful for your own.
  3. Have a good reason for the meeting. Generic networking is fine for receptions and stuff like that, but if you’re e-mailing someone to meet, you should be able to explain pretty quickly how their work relates to yours and why meeting in person would be helpful.
  4. In terms of who you meet, always emphasize relevance over status. The best meetings I’ve had at any of these conferences are usually not with the stars of my subfields but with assistant or associate professors or even other grad students whose work I find really exciting and relevant to my own. Plus, these people tend to have more time.
  5. Do not be presumptuous. Make clear in your e-mail that you understand the professor might be too busy or otherwise occupied. You don’t have to be obsequious, but make sure you don’t come off as entitled. Nobody owes you their time or attention.
  6. Don’t form global impressions based on one encounter. You don’t get an e-mail back means you don’t get an e-mail back.  It doesn’t mean the professor is mean, or you come off as stupid, or anything else.

During the Meeting

  1. Have fun! Obviously be professional, but this isn’t a job interview.
  2. Come prepared to discuss things about their work you find helpful and how it links to your work.
  3. Ask questions about that person. Sometimes when I’m nervous, I talk too much about myself because I don’t know how to handle silences. Try not to do that. This is a conversation, not a way to talk about and sell yourself.
  4. Don’t get personal about the other person unless they invite it first and even then, better to listen respectfully and keep it professional. The same usually goes for getting too personal about yourself. (Of course, different situations elicit different selves, etc, but as a rule this is usually pretty solid)
  5. Don’t do any big asks. Maybe someday you’d like to collaborate with this professor or even have them on your committee. Hold fast there tiger.

After the Meeting

  1. Send an e-mail thanking the professor for their time.
  2. In the e-mail, you might send a link to your work but remember, nobody owes you their time or attention. Don’t presume.

Good luck and have fun.  And I’ll see you soon, I hope!

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Written by jeffguhin

July 15, 2017 at 8:32 pm

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