Saturday, September 23, 2006

Talking and networking at the beach

This week was our department retreat at the beach, which was pretty nice. This was the 2nd year in a row that my boss got suckered into planning it, but he did a good job and we had a lot of free time. Last year was my first year and we had a bunch of random speakers from other departments at the same institute, which... well I'd like to say that I really cared what they talked about, but I didn't. Because I am a terrible person. At the end of the retreat I felt like I hadn't learned anything. I still didn't know what any of the other labs in our department did, and we don't have a postdoc seminar series or anything, so I didn't learn this during the rest of the year either. Because I'm a bit of a loudmouth, I complained about this to the department chair at the party at last year's retreat. And at the end of the retreat when they asked for suggestions for next year's. And again several months later when we had a postdoc meeting with our department chair. I was also looking for some outlet for postdocs to give talks. Its not like I love giving a talk, I don't. I hate it. I get all nervous and feel like I'm going to barf. BUT. I think its a really important thing to work on. I mean, we're going to have to give talks all the time: at meetings, for job interviews, etc. We're only going to improve with practice.

Anyhow, my boss agreed with me and suggested at a faculty meeting that postdocs give talks at the retreat this year instead of outside speakers. Some of the PIs thought this was a good idea, some didn't. One even told him that he wasn't a very good postdoc mentor because he didn't do a very good job of shutting me up, and instead allowed me to "bully" the other postdocs into having to give talks. Nice. I have to say that, even though you hear about women getting discriminated against in science, this was the only time I've ever felt that way myself - like if I had a Y chromosome, my being persistent in trying to change things would have been viewed favorably, and not like it was some horribly negative trait. Well, the chair agreed with me too, and so the retreat format was changed. I thought it went really well, and I think everyone else did too. A bit of vindication! People actually paid attention to the talks, asked questions, and I learned what everyone else was doing. I'm guessing it will stay this way next year too, which is good.

So we were at this nice hotel on the beach, and we had a lot of free time, which was nice. We had one invited speaker from another institution, who happens to be a "big guy" in my field. Everyone tells you when you ask for career advice how important it is to NETWORK. Like, at a meeting you're supossed to talk to all of the "big guys" so that they know who you are. Etc. How the hell you're supossed to accomplish this, I have no idea. I'm not very good at it, and I'm pretty outgoing. I've only been to a couple of meetings. The first one was ASHG, which is enormous. No way you're going to get any networking done there, and I didn't. The second one was a big mouse genome meeting. Not as big as ASHG by a long shot, but still big enough, and still no networking accomplished (although I had been selected to give a talk at this one, so at least people saw me). The other one I went to was an epigenetics meeting at Cold Spring Harbor that Karl went to as well. Karl met someone in the bar before I arrived who actually was a "big guy", and we spent a lot of time that week hanging out with him at the bar. It was fun, and this guy wasn't all that scary after all, in fact he was really nice. But that was all due to Karl's excellent bar skills, not mine. At the same meeting, Karl also went up to Jim Watson and attempted to chat, much to my delight. Also, Karl kinda got shot down (as did the vast majority of people who went to talk to JW, it certainly wasn't a Karl-specific thing). Unsurprisingly, I did not try to talk to him. However, Jim Watson did totally stare at my chest. So that was the extent of my networking. He doesn't know me from Adam, but he might remember my boobs.

Anyhow, during the free time at the retreat my friend and I usually went to the beach and floated around in the waves. Thats fun. Actually, the first day I no sooner stepped in the water when a big wave totally knocked me over. I went underwater and washed up onto the shore, where I ran into the legs of one of our PIs. Niiiiice. Also, so much for not getting my hair wet. The invited speaker was also floating around in the water with our chair, so we got to chat with him. That was nice, and a non-intimidating way of networking. He's totally not going to forget who I am either, because I'm the spunky pregnant lady. At the party, he asked me whether Brian was anything like me. I said, a little bit, but not really because, could you imagine TWO of us? Yikes. I emailed him after the retreat and said that it was nice to get to meet him in that sort of an environment, where I wasn't terrified of him, and he said that I should find him at meetings and he'd be happy to introduce me to whoever I wanted to meet, and that I could certainly socialize with the "old-timers". So, its nice to know that all the "big guys" aren't scary and that they actually do want to help you.

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