ESA Annual Meeting: Strategies for Success

Strategies for Success

By Alaina G. Levine

The ESA Annual Meeting is almost upon us and I couldn’t be more excited. It is one of my favorite conferences of the year, and I am sure you agree. From the plethora of plenary sessions to the gaggle of scientific talks and posters, to the numerous networking opportunities, the ESA Annual Meeting is a must for ecologists and environmental scientists in all phases of their careers.

Now of course, I know you’re already planning on attending, but I want to help you get the most out of the meeting and also highlight some of the special events that ESA is organizing, especially designed to enable your career success. In particular, I am going to giving a number of workshops on career development and I hope you can join me at this presentations!

Saturday Night Special! Get the Job: Strategies and Tactics for Early-Career Ecologists in Finding and Landing Your Dream Career, Saturday, 5 August 2017, 5-9pm. Come in early to the conference and spend Saturday night with me to learn how to actually GET A JOB! (yes, I used all caps). We will focus on strategies associated with accessing hidden career opportunities and engaging decision-makers, as well as tactical advice concerning your resume and CV, interviewing, and social media presence. Advanced registration is required.(LINK TO DO SO)

Networking for Nerds: Become a Networking Rock Star, Monday, 7 August 2017, 11:30am-1:15pm, D139 Oregon Convention Center. Yes, I will teach you to network. Yes, you will learn how to introduce yourself to strangers, build win-win alliances, and even work a room at a mixer. The bottom line: you will emerge from this workshop a Networking Rock Star!

Transitioning Your Career Beyond Academia, Tuesday, 8 August 2017, 11:30am – 1:15pm, E142. Ecologists have an incredible abundance of skills which are absolutely transferrable to many careers outside of academia. We will delve into how to craft a successful strategy to research, prepare and ultimately transition to a career outside academia, and we will explore how to determine the right careers for your needs, desires and ambitions. Part of the key is knowing the full extent of your value, and how to appropriately articulate it to unlock career opportunities.

Introduction to Negotiation Strategies and Tactics, Thursday, 10 August 2017, 11:30 – 1:15pm, B112. Did you know that the salary of your very first job after graduation determines your salaries for the rest of your life? Learn how to create a win-win situation and negotiate right from start to finish in the job decision process. One highlight will be a step-by-step decision-tree analysis of how to answer the ubiquitous question “what are your salary requirements?”

There are also two special opportunities I want to draw your attention to:

ESA Mentee/Mentor Program Breakfast, Tuesday, 8 August 2017. 7:00am-8:00am. Every year, ESA holds this special breakfast to allow early career ecologists the chance to meet and mingle with established leaders within the ESA community. These mentee/mentor partnerships can last a lifetime and provide myriad, enriching benefits to both parties. So make sure you put this on your to-do list!

One-on-one career consulting: ESA has been sponsoring this special service for a few years now. Conference participants can sign up in advance here to have a 20 minute one-on-one career consultation with moi. Bring your CV or resume and any other document you’d like me to review for you. But wait there’s more! We can discuss any career-related topic of interest to you, and our conversation remains completely confidential. So come with your questions about job searching, applications, career development, skill building, CVs and resumes, cover letters, interviewing preparation, negotiation, and networking. I will also be able to help you with workplace-related issues including teambuilding, leadership, and conflict resolution.

Now that you have a few ideas of the types of events that are taking place at the Meeting, consider these few tips to get ready:

  • Make a strategy now. Don’t just attend the conference passively. It is not too early to start reaching out to speakers and other professionals with whom you’d like to meet, and ask for a coffee appointment while you’re both in Portland. Don’t be shy about requesting an informal conversation to discuss potential collaborations or to explore the possibility of working together in some fashion. Show initiative and email Dr. X now. And even if Dr. X is not on the scientific program, there is a good chance she will be attending since this conference attracts the stars of ecology.
  • Look for win-win networking. X’s purpose in attending the ESA Annual Meeting and yours are mirrored- she and you want to gain insight, learn about new discoveries, innovations, ideas, and you both want to meet people with whom they can potentially collaborate and form alliances. Everyone always has a problem they are trying to solve, whether it is a scientific in nature, or something related to the management of projects, communications, or technology. If you reach out to them at the right time you can position yourself as a problem solver- and more specifically, their problem solver.
  • Only ask for only 15 minutes of their time. Everyone’s time is maxed out at a major conference like the Annual Meeting so Dr. X might not have a full hour to spend with you, but almost always she can spare 15 minutes.
  • Promote your poster and talk! Recently, I met a student who brilliantly printed her poster on fabric, which she wore as a scarf throughout the meeting. What a great way to start a conversation and to effectively and totally appropriately promote herself. I was very impressed with her creativity. Now even if you don’t have the budget to print a scarf, you can at the very least invite other ecologists to attend your talk or visit you at your poster. And here’s a great tip to take it one step further: have business cards, and put a sticker on the back of your business card with the title, date, time, and location of your poster or presentation. Then, as you meet leaders and potential employers, you can give them your card and say “by the way, I am giving a poster on Thursday and I would like to invite you to attend. Here is the information.” And boom, you have engaged in appropriate promotion of your presentation, which can garner new opportunities for both you and this new potential ally.
  • Leverage the exhibit hall. Don’t just wander around aimlessly looking for free pens and cup holders. Instead, try to learn new things and make connections that will serve you well long after those free pens have run dry. Especially for large conferences like the ESA Annual Meeting, where there are dozens of exhibitors, carefully study the list of exhibitors and map out where the ones you really want to visit are located. Make a plan to visit booths that are of primary, secondary, and tertiary importance to you, depending on how much time each tier of visits takes.
  • Explore the poster farm. At some point during the conference, plan to mosey through the poster farm. Take a careful look at what’s being presented and by whom. Not only will you get new ideas for research directions and learn about new trends in the field, but you will also have a fantastic networking opportunity. The people presenting the posters want to talk to someone, so if you offer that chance, they will be thrilled to chat about their work!
  • Don’t eat alone. At almost all conferences, attendees flow into restaurants within a few-block radius of a convention center. And at mealtimes, you can usually identify fellow conference participants because they tend to keep their nametags visible. So if you see someone from the meeting eating alone, don’t be afraid to ask, “Do you mind if I join you?” Chances are the other person will invite you to sit. And since you’re attending the Annual Meeting, you’ll automatically have something to talk about. Don’t be tempted to spend your lunch hour reading email when there is networking gold to be had right next to you!
  • Be an early (and friendly) bird. Arrive early to talks and sit down near someone you don’t know. This is a great opportunity to network, especially for introverts, because there is a reason to speak with the other person: You are both here to attend the session. Furthermore, this networking has an “expiration date”, so you won’t be stuck making conversation indefinitely. After you sit, introduce yourself, then reference the speaker and his or her subject as a way to get the conversation started. Then, as soon as the speaker begins, you can whisper, “It was great to meet you. May I have your business card?” Now you’re done!
  • Use social media strategically. Note the conference hashtag (#ESA2017) and check out ESA’s Social Media Guidelines. Tweet appropriate and positive information, and follow social media to learn about ad hoc networking activities, changes in the scientific program, and special events and activities. Remember that some events are only promoted on social media like twitter! You can also leverage social media channels to learn about breakthroughs and innovative research and to meet and network with leaders in your field.

Finally, always bring a great attitude. Yes, it’s a cliché, but making sure there’s a smile on your face as you approach someone or enter the room for a mixer can go a long way toward laying the foundations for productive relationships. No one wants to chat with someone who isn’t happy to be there, is looking at their shoes, or is reading a text while simultaneously chatting. So show people that you are serious about your craft and about their craft by recognizing that in-person networking is a privilege and an honor and is, in fact, enjoyable. This doesn’t mean that you have to be the life of the party or change your personality from being an introvert to an extrovert; rather, show up with the expectation that you will take pleasure from the experience of participating in the conference. That joy will be infectious and will help to fuel the conversations you will have.

—Here’s to your success, and I look forward to seeing you in Portland!

Alaina G. Levine is a STEM career consultant, professional speaker, corporate comedian, communications coach and consultant, and science writer. She is author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), which was named one of the Top 5 Books of 2015 by Physics Today Magazine. @AlainaGLevine