On a recent trip to visit the paleobiology group
at the University of Washington, I had the opportunity to visit with a variety of faculty and students. I always enjoy getting to meet new people and learn about what they are working on, but from a student’s perspective, I know that meeting with a visiting professor can be intimidating. Here are my Top 10 suggestions of why you should consider signing up for one of those half-hour meetings. Many of these reasons are applicable whether you are a student or not.
10. Learn about something new. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn about a new topic by chatting with an expert rather than reading a textbook or scientific paper. Jot down some notes afterward so you will remember the highlights.
9. Hone your “elevator speech.” Being able to succinctly describe your research and its broader importance is extremely useful no matter where you are in your career. Optimally, you should be able to cater your message to your audience, be that a stranger, someone familiar with your work, or a grant administrator.
8. Get professional tips. Succeeding in academia does not simply depend on teaching skills or research acumen. You must be able to function effectively in your workplace and the broader scientific community. Ask about successes and pitfalls in the workplace so you can learn from the experience of others.
7. Bounce research ideas. Thinking of starting a new project? Working on analyzing some data? Present your current research and ask for feedback. The responses you get might take you in new and unexpected directions.
6. Learn about how things work elsewhere. Ask about the advantages and disadvantages of being at a liberal arts college, museum, state school, private university, or with the government. You will be better prepared when you are out on the job market, and you might get good ideas for your own institution.
5. Get teaching tips. Teaching styles and expectations vary widely. Find out what sort of classes they teach and how they go about putting together a course. If they are at a museum, find out about their public outreach efforts. Ask for their top three strategies for being an effective educator or communicator.
4. Ask for specific advice. Do you have a particular academic or professional situation for which it would be good to get an outside perspective? This is the perfect opportunity.
3. Make your presence known. Meeting with faculty at other institutions is a great way to get your name (and work) out there. They might be more inclined to read (and then cite) a paper of yours in the future when they recognize your name and recall having met you, particularly if it was a positive experience.
2. Get out of your comfort zone. Meeting strangers can be intimidating, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Come up with some questions beforehand if you want a safety net. It is great preparation for your next academic meeting, departmental party, or interview.
And the #1 reason...
1. You will enjoy it! The vast majority of academics (and actual living scientists
) are actually really nice people. Additionally, the more people you meet, the more you know, and the more the scientific community becomes a scientific family.
- Dr. Darin Croft is an Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio