Recording & Networking At An Academic Conference
February 2, 2011 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Two questions about an academic conference: (1) voice recording at a distance and (2) networking at said conference as an undergrad.

(1) I'm looking to record the presentations at a conference I'm attending. I've messed with the options on my phone and laptop but I'm doubtful they'd work well at a distance. I'm really strapped for cash, so would there be any dedicated voice recorder or USB microphone for under $50 that would be of use at a distance? It'll be a small conference so I won't be too far away, but there will still be a distance because the presenter (I'm assuming at least) will be spatially set off from the audience. I want something that is useful at a distance because I'm not too inclined in asking the presenters if I could place a device up where they are to record them due to my social anxiety. Which brings me too...

(2) Networking at said conference. I'm an undergraduate (two years until graduation) in philosophy planning to apply to graduate school programs in continental philosophy, with a specific interest in Marxism (and will be thus be preferring schools with said strengths). Obviously not a very large field, especially in the United States, yet to my luck my institution is holding a conference near the end of this month in said field. This is a great opportunity, and the names and universities being advertised are those that I've come across in my searches for graduate school; needless to say I'm pumped. I'm arranging to miss my Thursday and Friday classes in order to attend everything.

Which brings me to my question on networking: Is this something applicable to some unimportant undergraduate? (My impression of networking comes largely from this previous MeFi question.)

As I mentioned earlier: I'm a little socially anxious, below average social skills, and not initially personable. Because of all this, initiating contact with others isn't something I typically do. Normally I would just plan on listening to all the presentations, but I want to make contacts because I'm looking at graduate school and want to work in this field. But I get the impression that as an undergraduate this isn't done and any attempts of mine at this would raise questions.

[I wish I could donate money not only to Metafilter, but to you guys directly! I've gotten so much help from my meager $5 fee (which none of you guys have even received from helping me in the past!) that it just isn't fair.]
posted by SollosQ to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't record it. It is not cool to do without asking permission of the presenter. Rather, ask for a copy of the paper. That is normal.
posted by k8t at 3:42 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding k8t on not recording other people's presentations, that's not really ok.

However, networking as an undergrad is TOTALLY ok, especially with people you would want to work with for grad school. Introduce yourself, tell them you're interested in their work. Tell them what research you've been doing. Tell them you're applying to grad school in (x) years.

Getting a professor to get to know you is how you get into grad school, really. Applying without professor contacts might work, but it's just as likely not to. Meet people. It's good.
posted by brainmouse at 3:46 PM on February 2, 2011

Just take notes during presentations if you're concerned about being able to absorb the info. Many conference organizations record individual presentations for sale after the conference is over, if there's something you think you'd REALLY like to have a recording of.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:07 PM on February 2, 2011

I was actually interested in disseminating what was being presented there for anyone interested, which would have been a lot worse than recording for just myself. Good thing I found out now, thanks! I'll definitely be taking notes though for myself.
posted by SollosQ at 4:20 PM on February 2, 2011

From the academic's viewpoint, just FYI: most of the time, people who come up to you at conferences (and who you don't know already) want to make an impression and want something from you. I'd love to say it's often people wanting to exchange opinions on the talk I gave, or comments on a paper I'd written, but it isn't: that mostly happens with people you know and people they know, so it takes place in private, at informal side events, chats in bars and so on. In the conference hall, not so much. Other fields may differ, of course.

So an undergrad, especially one who is two years away from graduation, is strange fruit. Whatever you do, don't try and show off - conferences are professional ground, and people are a *lot* less forgiving (showing off is where grad students fail a lot of the time). I'd recommend:

- be up-front about being a UG interested in PG in a few years (emphasise that, it means you're not on the lookout for immediate cash!);
- start by saying you found the person's talk very interesting only if you genuinely did;
- ask exactly and only the questions you need to know the answer to - not a more complex one because it sounds better, and then hope to reconstruct the answer to a simpler question (again, a grad student failing);
- don't take it at all personally if some people just brush you straight off; conferences don't bring out the best in people and there's a high background level of arsehole.

And anyone who won't give an interested UG at least a few minutes of their time and recommend a couple of things to read will make a lousy graduate supervisor anyway. Just don't expect a seminar and don't pretend to be something you're not, and you may well have a very successful time. Have fun!
posted by cromagnon at 4:23 PM on February 2, 2011

Approaching students and asking them questions about their research is a good start. Then, I'd talk to them about what they think of their program. Would they recommend it to someone with your interests? What do they like most and least? This is a great way of whittling down the schools to which you're applying, and thus maximizing your time and money when application time rolls around. Get their email addresses, and use them! Many schools have students on admissions committees, so getting your name out there is not a bad thing, as long as you do it in an individualized, genuinely interested way.

While you'd generally be hard pressed to get a faculty member's undivided attention (sob), conferences are a great place to do this, especially right after their presentation. Ask thoughtful questions about their work (both during and after the presentation), let them know that you're interested in pursuing similar work in grad school, and asking whether they have any suggestions for a student in your shoes. Do NOT ask them what your chances of getting into their program are. Do NOT ask them a question about their work just to say something. Undergrads who ask me thoughtful questions and otherwise demonstrate that they're really engaging with the topic at hand are few and far between, and are likely to show up on people's radar. They certainly do on mine.
posted by quiet coyote at 4:25 PM on February 2, 2011

Can't miss the opportunity to point you to Phil Agre's great piece about networking for students. It makes great sense and great reading.
posted by jasper411 at 4:29 PM on February 2, 2011

But I get the impression that as an undergraduate this isn't done and any attempts of mine at this would raise questions.

This is your anxiety talking and giving you an excuse not to talk to people. Unfortunately this impession is incorrect so you are not off the hook. Networking is encouraged for everyone at these conferences -- in fact networking is the reason they exist and the reason people come. This is a great opportunity to meet profs who might become advisors in the future.

You will have to pretend you aren't shy at this event. It will be hard -- I speak from experience as a shy person who has attended conferences and felt little and insignificant -- but the future benefits outweigh your discomfort now so you have to get over it. I suggest you set goals to psych yourself up: "during the next break I will introduce myself to Dr. X" -- or, if there is no-one in particular you want to meet, "I will introduce myself to three people", and make it whoever you happen to be standing beside; aim for more casual conversation here, like 'did you see any interesting talks'.

The hard part is the first step -- walking up to someone, looking them in the eye, saying "Hi, I'm SollosQ", and offering your hand for them to shake. Once they tell you their name and shake your hand you are over the hump, and you can ask them about where they're from and what kind of work they do, or tell them you really enjoyed their talk, or tell them you're interested in some of the work their department is doing -- whatever. But everything hinges on you doing the first step.

You will hear the voice in your head telling you not to talk to these people because it will impose or they won't care or whatever: that voice is your anxiety. It's true that some people may be jerks and some people may not have much time to give you. But you won't know who these people are beforehand, and neither does your anxiety, so you have to ignore it and take the risk. Usually your anxiety is wrong or at least exaggerating. Keep it in mind.

If anxiety is a particular problem for you, it might help to practice a few conversational "scripts" beforehand, so you can go on autopilot if you get nervous. Think about what you want to say -- that you're an undergrad, interested in X, enjoyed their talk, might like to study it in the future, whatever -- and what you want to know from them -- where they're from, what kind of research they do, etc -- and just practice having these conversations.

Also, you should have some business cards made and carry them with you. It may sound like an anachronism, but they are still used in academia and they are handy. After you've had a chat you can offer someone your card, and they will usually give you one in return. At this point you have their email address and a tacit invitation to contact them. If this is a prospective supervisor, it would be totally cool to followup after the conference and say you enjoyed meeting them, and strike up a little professional relationship with them.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:33 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you do record, do it surreptitiously from your seat, wherever that turns out to be, with whatever gear you have. What you will record is whatever sound reaches your seat, which will be from the PA system, so not that great, but it might be something you could listen to. And yes, for your ears only.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:40 PM on February 2, 2011

I want to highlight what cromagnon said about conferences sometimes not bringing out the best in people. I've definitely been blown off at conferences by people who I later learned are reasonably nice, just got stressed out and needed to get to their next event. Try not to take it personally if someone doesn't have time for you. Easier said than done, I know.
posted by synchronia at 11:12 PM on February 2, 2011

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