Conference lonely

Jun 09 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

It's amazing the confidence and comfort that a speaking slot and a sister can provide for a better conference experience. At the last conference I attended, I had such a good time and met/talked substantially to a number of great people in the society leadership, had fun giving my talk and asked lots of questions. The conference I am at right now is just feeling really lonely. Even though I know more people here than at the last one, none of them are more than relatively passing acquaintances other than a few folks from my postdoc lab (whom it has been very nice to see and talk to! but I do miss rooming with my sistah). Former postdoc PI is very famous in this field, and is here getting an award, and a bunch of his other previous postdocs/students are here too. You'd think that would feel homey, but I just don't feel like a part of that group yet. Maybe I need more CNS papers to fit in? Or just time to get to know these people? Hanging out at the bar or something? Asking more questions in talks so they wonder who I am?

However, speaker and PI wise, this is a very dudely conference. I have counted only about 10% female speakers, even though there are plenty of female grad students and postdocs around and at least a few more female PIs proportionately compared to the number they have chosen to speak. I've had some nice conversations, but it's not an environment where I can just say "Hey let's grab a beer!" to these dudes I do not know. Questions after talks are not very user-friendly, either--the whole conference is being held in this big auditorium and if you have a question you have to flag down someone who runs over to you with a microphone. It makes me an awful lot less likely to get up to ask a question if I know I will have to make a huge deal out of it, waving my arms all over the place, and then still not even get to ask it anyway because most of the mic runners are going to the older dudes in the front seats.

Is this a uniquely young-female-prof problem to have, or do the young-guy-profs have the same uncomfortable fear of having attempts at networking make you appear like some kind of groupie? Is this some kind of imposter syndrome on my part, or is it a legitimate reaction to a closed social atmosphere amongst this group? There are a bunch of events for the "elites," with award dinners etc., and events for the young'uns, with student/postdoc only parties and stuff, but nothing for us tweeners. I guess I just feel like I fall through the cracks here. Maybe I am just jealous that I don't get to give a talk.

Maybe I need to get more involved in this society and start a Women in Such-and-Such Science group, and we can have our own private beer parties with NO BOYS ALLOWED!!

10 responses so far

  • Professor in Training says:

    I have the same problem at conferences but I'm guessing that stems largely from both my introversion and imposter syndrome tendencies. My solution is to always make sure I have a close friend or colleague at the meeting with whom I can hang out and make fun of the greybeards. If I'm not with anyone I know, I'll blow off everything except the science as I'd rather die than go to a social event by myself.

  • Comrade PhysioProf says:

    Go to the social event, have some drinks, and just talk to people. The key to social networking is that people love to talk about themselves and their interests. If you go up to someone and express interest in their work, YOU WIN!

  • lin says:

    I hate two things: going to conferences without buddies and I hate going to social events at conferences, plus I always have the idea that really fun people already have other things to do than social EVENTS, since they are already social, and eventing themselves, thus I am a loner. Sort of the social imposer syndrome, I think.If you manage to go to a social, I salute you, brave woman! I usually do like PiT does...

  • Mrs. CH says:

    Each conference I have attended there has been at least one other person from my research group. But, in August, I'm going to a huge conference, and no one else is coming with (even from our university!). I'm scared!! I will probably do as PiT and lin said - go to the science, and duck out on the social events. Otherwise, I'd just be uncomfortable the whole entire time.

  • Candid Engineer says:

    I loathe conferences where I only know "acquaintances". What torture. You kind of know them, but not well enough to say, "I'm going to hang out with you all night whether you like it or not". It honestly seems the solution is to have a few drinks (and at least once or twice during the conference) to just throw yourself into the fire. At least you'll feel like you tried.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I think more important is to realize that you are NOT the only one who feels this way and lots of the aquaintances you have are in the same boat. It only takes one of you to make the first move and start chatting with the others, but you'll find that people want to hang out. If someone you knew a bit came over and expressed an interest in having a beer with you, would it make you feel less awkward? Yes. Everyone else feels the same way but someone needs to be the catalyst. I've been doing this for years and it's the only way to change aquaintances into friends. After you bite the bullet and do it a couple of times, it gets pretty easy.

  • Odyssey says:

    One of the reasons I like the Gordon Research Conference format is that you're forced to socialize. Unless you decide not to eat all week...And CPP and PLS are right. People like to talk about their own work and there are many who are just as lonely/scared as you. Some even more so.

  • EcoGeoFemme says:

    I've had good luck with this tactic: If I keep noticing someone who looks sort of on their own and I see them in a break or something, I'll say, "We seem to be going to many of the same sessions. Are you a sub-sub-sub-field-ologist?" That usually breaks the ice and leads to a nice conversation, even lunch. Of course it only works at meetings with concurrent sessions.I feel really lucky because I got in with a group of science friends early on. It's a huge group with some core members, and they invite everybody to come out in the evenings. It probably looks like a clique from the outside, but it's the most inclusive clique I've ever encountered. The other cool thing is that this group spans a wide range of career stages, so there will be junior grad students, post-docs, tenured profs -- anybody who is fun. It really, really enhances my meeting experience.

  • Arlenna says:

    You know what's cool--right after reading all of these comments just before lunch, I got into a conversation with a group of old friends/colleagues who are all about at my same stage and sat with them while we had our lunch and made some friends. 🙂 Then I was helping judge posters and we were in teams, and I made a few more friends. So I just needed to be patient. We'll see what the social event is like tomorrow, maybe I'll have people to talk to there now that I met some folks.

  • Successful Researcher: How to Become One says:

    To answer your question, a fair number of guys also seems to have the networking problem you describe.

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