Managing your meeting when you’re not a postdoc anymore

I’m back from Glasgow and it wasn’t quite as dismal as the previous post made out. Yes, it rained alot but toward the end it got a tad brighter and I got a chance to actually see a bit of the city. Nice place, in fact it reminded my quite a bit of old-town Montreal which shouldn’t be too surprising since much of the city centre was actually built by Scots. But I digress… before we get into talking about the science at the meeting let’s take a post to speak about how approaching these meetings changes once you are a junior faculty and no longer just another postdoc in the sea of postdoc faces.

This was my first big meeting since taking the new position and I was a tad worried because I was presenting data that came largely from my postdoc and not from the new lab. Because of this I spent some time asking my more experienced colleagues how I should approach the question that I knew was going to be coming: how’s the new lab going? The advice I got was be non-specific but very enthusiastic. I already knew this was the correct approach so it was no problem putting it into practice. What surprised me was that I got asked this question much more than I ever would have suspected. It seemed to me that most of my colleagues (at least those on the more basic side) were well aware that I had my own lab now and most seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing in getting the lab going. The great temptation was to immediately start telling them about all of our exciting results on a variety of projects. I avoided this and rather told them about all of the great people working in the lab, making sure that I informed them that we were fully operational and generating preliminary data for a number of upcoming grant applications. All of this expressed with a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism but no specifics about our work.

So what was different in approaching the meeting as a faculty member rather than as a postdoc?
Here is the list:
1) Recruiting. While the lab is moving along nicely I know that we need a few more good people. Hence, I focussed in on a few young scientists that seem to be up and comers and made sure that I found them and expressed a good deal of interest in their work. After getting a bit of a feel for each of the people that I wanted to focus on I jumped into the possibility of a postdoctoral position with a few that I found to be especially good candidates. We’ll see if this approach works out but I felt that there was some genuine interest from at least a few people. I’ll be following up soon…
2) Invitations to peripheral events. I got more of these than I’ve ever gotten before and I said yes to everything. At a few of them I think I might have been the youngest person there by a decade. Eventually it became a bit exhausting but I made it through and feel like I kept my game face on the entire time. I got to meet many of the important international players through this approach and I think that it will serve me well in the long term. Maybe I can actually get some sleep now that I’m back home!
3) Poster sessions. In the past I have always spent poster sessions looking through the posters and talking to people about the work. At IASP I did very little of this. I may have gone through 5 posters in detail. Rather, I spent most of the time talking to a variety of PIs about possible collaborations based on the themes of the groups of posters they were presenting. Poster presenters always care a great deal about the specifics of the work they are presenting. PIs care about this too but are more wrapped up in the general theme and direction of the mass of work that they present at these meetings. Hence, I tried to find themes that were relevant to my immediate work and tried to elbow my way in to at least discuss the general directions of the work and maybe get into some possibilities for collaboration if they presented themselves. I think that I found at least one well known lab that shares some of my future research directions and I am hopeful that we can develop some good tools together.
4) Exude leadership. I know that this sounds way pompous but I think that it can be done in a calm and collective way (whether I accomplished it is debatable). My goal here was to get to know as many of the young scientists in the field (mainly junior PIs) as possible and talk to them about promoting ourselves as the future of the field. This meant 1) proposing to write reviews with some key people, 2) asking some others for a commitment of involvement in some leadership committees in our professional organizations and 3) hinting at my availability to give talks at their locales at times when I know I can arrange a layover for some other event. Points 1 and 3 went very well. We’ll have to see about 2 as I seem to care about this sort of stuff more than my other young colleagues (but I’d love to proven wrong).
5) Industry connections. I’d never done this at all before. I spent much time on this in Glasgow. In many fields this is important and mine is one of them. I hope it went well. That’s all I want to say.

So, that about covers it from the “political” perspective. I’ll do a post, as promised, on what’s new on peripheral nociceptor sensitization soon.


5 responses to “Managing your meeting when you’re not a postdoc anymore

  1. “…a commitment of involvement in some leadership committees in our professional organizations…”

    Once you have your research program off and running (and not before), this can be a very good thing to do. The time commitment isn’t usually onerous and it can be quite beneficial. Being on a society committee can provide easier access to established investigators within your field, and perhaps more importantly, provides an additional means of putting your name out there. On top of that, service outside your institution is usually one of the tenure requirements. A minor one, but not one to be neglected.

  2. Odyssey, I have found that the time commitment is less than onerous. In my case it has been so minimal as to be meaningless. My personal opinion is that as soon as you get the chance you should take it. You never know when the opportunity will arise again and if you are offered something and say no you may not get another offer for a very long time.

  3. You never know when the opportunity will arise again and if you are offered something and say no you may not get another offer for a very long time.

    Absolutely true. However, I still believe you need your research program up and running first. After all, you need some science to talk about when rubbing shoulders with the who’s who.

  4. Fuck, dude! If I had written a post about what junior PIs need to do at meetings, it would have been exactly everything your wrote. Nice fucking job!

  5. PP, I learned from the master…

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