I recently attended the EGU in Vienna. This was my first major conference and I was the only member from my research group to attend, so my existing contacts were limited to say the least. It is commonly accepted wisdom that conferences are the place to network and meet future collaborators (and possibly even employers). As a final year PhD this was a great opportunity; but how to make the most of it?
I gathered advice from my colleagues and got some good tips on networking, but I was determined to also try and use a fairly new tool in the academic arsenal; that of social media. I have been using Twitter to talk about my research and experiences of doing a PhD for about 6 months and I had heard how effective this tool was for people at the AGU meeting the previous autumn.
I knew a few academics I “follow” on Twitter (but had never met) were going to the EGU and in the run-up to the conference I saw many more people talking about it using the official “hashtag” (#EGU2012). Hashtags allow all Twitter users to easily track conversations and comments on a particular theme, in this case anyone mentioning the EGU. This meant I could get information from people I had never come across before, and likewise anything I said could reach a wider audience. You could think of it as a gigantic academic group email!
While at the conference I shared sessions I enjoyed, interesting looking talks I had pencilled in, as well as other conference minutiae. Where I had a gap in my timetable I’d often take a punt on a session someone else had mentioned, including enjoyable talks on such diverse topics as the geomorphology of Mars and reducing hydrological uncertainty.
Over the course of the five days I met several people through Twitter and discussed their research, I got an invitation to a drinks reception for the journal Sedimentology and met the editors and I also met the people behind the EGU’s media team and got an invite to join their blog network. These were all things that would not have happened without Twitter. A great peripheral benefit was by meeting a few people through Twitter it gave me the confidence to start striking up more conversations with other delegates in general.
I was presenting a poster in the final slot on Friday, almost as the Vienna centre was being packed away around me, and the most satisfying part of the week was the half-dozen or so people I’d met earlier in the week thanks to Twitter who came along specifically to see my poster and have a chat.
Even with a wealth of shared interests being in the middle of 11,000 strangers can be a lonely place, and my experience is by using social media we can forge links with a diverse range of people and make conference attendance a richer experience, particularly for early career researchers.
Geography and Environment
University of Southampton
Read more about Simon’s experiences of using social media in academia on the University of Southampton Geography and Environment Postgraduate Blog: