A parallel between industry and academia is that some of the greatest benefits of conferences are the serendipitous conversations taking place in the coffee queues, at the end of sessions, and over networking drinks.
As a recent convert to academia, this year’s conference season was important to me as a way of broadening my professional network and ‘joining a conversation.’ (PhD students hear this expression a lot; it has taken me a while to work out what it means.) And if I’m honest, I was also hoping to use the experience to sharpen the elevator pitch for my research. So, the switch to a virtual format – while understandable and an impressive feat – was disappointing.
Given the altered conference scene, my supervisors suggested that I participate in the OMT meetup programme. I was fortunate enough to be allocated two meetup slots, the first with one of the convenors of a conference track at which I’d been due to present and one ‘random encounter.’ Ticking the box for the latter was a bit of a leap for me, but after 12 weeks of lock-down, the opportunity to talk to someone new outweighed any concerns I had about not seeming credible to someone outside of my field.
The random encounter was great. Talking to someone who doesn’t usually work with the theoretical lenses I am using led to a really useful conversation about ‘why that lens and not this one?’ Turned out I’d given it more thought than I’d realised. We also made a connection between my study – the amount of work involved in persistence – and some of the challenges currently being faced by universities and business schools. So that’s a few ideas for future studies generated, too.
My second meetup was more tightly focused on the area in which I’m working. And so, the first benefit, common to on and offline encounters, was the opportunity to interact with the ‘name on all those papers.’ I got a huge amount of value from explaining my research and emerging findings and then exploring the theoretical framing with one of the leading scholars of the theory. The conversation was challenging and provocative, but this was offset by the informality of the format. In fact, it gave me the confidence to raise some of my more speculative thoughts about my findings and seek feedback on those, something that I may not have felt comfortable doing in the more structured and open setting of the conference presentation / feedback format. I left the meet up with confirmation that there is merit in my current research, recommendations of a book chapter and paper to read, and a sharpened focus for my follow-up study.
I’ve never really enjoyed targeted networking. I find it draining (spoken like a true INTP). One of the big advantages of the OMT meetup programme is that you know you’ve both chosen to participate. No lurking trying to read name badges or waiting for a pause in a conversation to introduce yourself. Thirty minutes of a senior scholar’s undivided attention is probably more than you would get at a large-scale conference (and there is also the added benefit of choosing your own beverage and wearing pyjama trousers).
If you get the opportunity to participate in this initiative or something similar, I’d heartily recommend it.
PhD Candidate in Management, Cass Business School, City University of London