We all know that networking is important. Good contacts always pay off and make many things possible in the first place. In ChemistryViews, we, too, have written quite a few things about networking, general tips and tips for presenting posters, to name a few examples. We all have a quite good idea of what we need to do and have developed at least good resolutions on how to connect with other people at physical conferences. But what exactly do we do in a time when we hardly meet anyone, and almost all conferences are canceled or take place online?
In order to get to the bottom of this question, I have asked around in the community and collected some tips and best practices from scientists of different ages and different countries. I hope among these you will also find some useful tips for yourself.
Be Active at Online Events
“Online conferences are not ideal.” Daniel Rabinovich, Professor at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA, admits. “I go to conferences to network, meet other chemists, look at the exhibits, visit book publishers, have little reunions with former students, with friends, with colleagues. It is almost as if I participate in conferences for many reasons, except attending talks, and that is why I miss going to in-person conferences.”
I think many of us currently feel the same way. The screen lacks the immediate visual feedback that can be given directly to the speaker in a room. Also, the conversations that often take place directly before or after a talk are no longer possible. Thus, possibly also the chance for networking, exchange of ideas, small talk, important arrangements, for which the big round even in a smaller online conference might be the wrong environment, vanished.
But that is just the way it is, and we have to make the best of it. And there are some advantages: Online conferences must be better prepared, they run more moderated, more concentrated, and more focused. Overall, they are faster, more productive, and more efficient. In addition, there is no need to travel, which also saves time and resources. Sir Fraser Stoddart, 2016 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University, USA, summarizes this: “It’s zoom, zoom, zoom – like it or not. I’ve adjusted and may not find it so easy in the future rushing to airports only to find out that one’s flight has been delayed …”
Daniel Rabinovich agrees and adds that “right after a talk or group of sessions, you can go back to your own business”. Other positive aspect for him include that “you also can meet (virtually) with colleagues and students who would normally not attend the conference you’re in. Last but not least, online conferences tend to be significantly less expensive than in-person events, not to mention the cost of transportation, hotel, etc.” It is, therefore, easier to participate in online events in terms of time and/or money.
Katharina Uebele, Consultant at DuPont Sustainable Solutions, Düsseldorf, Germany, sees a further advantage in the various technical possibilities for exchanging information at conferences. “Many online conferences are enhanced by tools such as Mentimeter or a simple chatbox.” Mentimeter is one of the tools you can use to create interactive online presentations and incorporate audience feedback into your presentation. This can be, for example, the evaluation of a multiple-choice question. This makes presentations more relaxed and gives the audience the feeling of interacting with others and being an active part of the event. “It significantly enhances the interaction of the participants – even more than before offline.” The chat functions are more suitable for networking. “Every opinion and question is captured, seen by every participant, and inspires exchange. So don’t be afraid to participate in the variety of digital conferences and exchange ideas with the whole world.“
The same opinion is also held by Javier García Martinez, Vice President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and Professor at the University of Alicante, Spain. “Make sure you benefit from the many webinars, online workshops, and even networking e-events that are happening due to the current situation.” For early-career researchers, he recommends ChemVoices. “We have created ChemVoices at IUPAC in collaboration with the International Younger Chemists Network (IYCN) to showcase the many contributions of early-career scientists worldwide. This is a great opportunity to learn about and to connect with outstanding young chemists from all around the world.“
There are currently many such offers for different target groups. A selection can be found in the event calendar of ChemistryViews. Fraser Stoddart was just thrilled with his experience at one of the Chemistry Europe Virtual Events. “Back in late October, I was the master of ceremonies at a virtual Zoom meeting on “Supramolecular Chemistry” organized by Kira Welter from ChemPhysChem. It was a big success.” There were three short lectures by international scientists, and afterwards, the participants could ask questions.
Check Out Your Chemical Society’s Activities
Many chemical societies have moved their activities to the Internet and are testing new formats. Sebastian Weber, a Ph.D. student at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany, suggests to “proactively reach out to scientific organizations. They are regularly looking for new active volunteers. These are perfect platforms to meet new people.”
Improve International Cooperations
You do not always have to meet new people. Research is international, and many have cooperation partners and former students and postdocs all over the world. We like to meet each other at international conferences, but you can also maintain and expand these contacts online. Sir Fraser Stoddart describes a nice example from his group:
“The Zoom meetings that give me the most pleasure are what my research group and I call our Read-Throughs. What are they? Let me explain. For many years now when the writing of the manuscript of a communication paper or review reaches its final stages, we would meet as a bunch of co-authors in our conference room, and those of us with English as our first language would read the manuscript sentence-by-sentence from a projection scene from beginning (introduction) to end (outlook and abstract and not least of all the titles). The first author interacts with the prose and makes the corrections and even re-writes in real time. It’s often necessary to call up Google in the hunt for synonyms. This ’sport’ transfers extremely well to Zoom with some added advantages, e.g., co-authors can join from other universities and even other countries. In essence, the activity gets more buy-in than it did before the pandemic.”
Interact via Social Media
Social media is becoming increasingly popular and accounts for much of how people communicate in most areas of life, and it is becoming an increasingly important part of the way work is done. Accordingly, it is also a very important tool for networking in times of Corona.
Elena Lenci, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Florence, Italy, suggests to “follow topics and conversations related to your scientific interests on Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the other social media.”
Javier García Martinez adds. “Social media is a great way not only to be informed about what is happening in your field but also to follow and even interact with people with your same interests. Make sure that your profile in your social media, especially the professional platforms like LinkedIn, are updated, and maintained.”
And then you have to become active and show initiative. Sebastian Weber suggests to “maintain your existing network by using the well-known platforms and actively communicate your research there. Try to use your existing contacts to expand your network either for scientific or organizational topics.” And to expand your network you can go one step further. “Don’t be shy about approaching your potential partners on social networks. Try to be polite, but less formal if possible: we all need friendly conversations in these difficult times.” Elena Lenci said.
Be Proactive and Mindful
“Be proactive. Giving a webinar, having a presence on social, and other ways to let other people know what you do is a good way to increase your professional network.” Javier García Martinez sums it up nicely. “How about a five-minute coffee break via video with your colleagues?” Katharina Uebele asks. From my own experience, I know that it does not stop at five minutes, because we simply have to tell each other more and this informal contact is missing in our current business life.
“Getting into contact with one’s network has become more impersonal,” says Katharina Uebele. She, therefore, recommends “to simply pick up the phone instead of sending an e-mail or turning on the camera in a conference call to get closer together again.”
And another great tip from Katharina Uebele is listening. “What is your network up to right now? Which topics are relevant? What concerns do you share? Listening, understanding, and being there for each other are important skills, especially in a virtual context. The focus is not on how to get the most added value, but how to contribute to my network.”
Probably, you cannot remember this often enough: Even though we might have a higher need for talking because we don’t meet so many people, we all do not have infinitely much time. A note of caution in this context from Javier García Martinez: “Be selective. One of the most common mistakes of online working is spending too much time on webinars, social media, and just e-meetings, which can sometimes take too much of our time without adding significant value.”
So I think there are many possibilities, a lot to try out and to discover. I wish us all an exciting and successful journey of discovery. Much of what we are trying out now, I am sure, we will be able to include in a successful cooperation even when we finally will be able to all meet again in person.
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