Scientific Meeting 101: The Schmoozery

June 19, 2007

Off at a meeting this week. Of the small, focused type for my field, namely the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. In the fair Quebec City this year which is….nice. (Just a reminder of some of the perqs in this biz for those focused on the dismal aspects.) Actual science to follow but first the career stuff.

The NIDA Director, Nora Volkow had some opening remarks, presumably Directors and high level staff of other ICs frequent your field-specific meetings. Here’s a thought. Listen to them. All too easy to get in late, fight jet lag and miss the opening blah, blah, blah. It’s worth dragging out of bed though because Dr. Volkow, at least, is pretty clear about funding priorities. AIDS. Yep, drug abuse -n- AIDS is now and has been the topic of programmatic emphasis for some time. [Update: see this notice warning of an upcoming RFA] Why you may ask? Well, this is one of these nifty little Congressional interferences with the way the NIH ICs spend their money. The pool of money NIDA has to spend on “AIDS-related” grants can be spent on that and that alone. Naturally, this is not the natural strength of their usual applicants. This means there are fewer applicants and the competition is, obviously, less numerous. This brings us to issues of career and what you want to work on scientifically. “I don’t DO AIDS work”, is the usual response. Well do you want a grant or not? Find a collaborator that knows lentiviral models but doesn’t know drugs. Two Aims for me, one Aim for “Congressionally mandated area of interest” and there you go!

The Budget: We have some policy / lobbying efforts in the CPDD. In their presentations, the actual for-hire lobbyist guy was pretty pessimistic about the chances for future increases and emphasizes the real-purchasing-power analysis showing declines while raw dollar numbers stay flat. Looks convincing. Dismally so. We’ll have to hold on for a few more years. Fascinatingly they’ve decided to abandon the whole CapWiz thing. Many of your societies no doubt signed up for this service which bothers you every so often to email your Congressperson/Senator on some legislation issue. I’ve been finding that these are answered with an auto-reply from the member of Congress saying ” I don’t pay any attention to those, please submit an email through my website”. Apparently everyone else has figured this out too.

Program Officers: I’ve talked about this before but am reminded once again. At a meeting your number one schmooze job should be to buttonhole your friendly PO. For five minutes if nothing else. Remember it is their job to talk to you. Your goal is not complicated. First, you want to make sure that someone in your funding (or future/potential funding) Institute knows who you are, can put face to name, etc. Second, you can advance agenda. Talk excitedly about your science. Point out where they have a lack, where the future is heading, etc. Their initiatives and directions are shaped by scientists in many cases so you might as well start getting your opinion into the process.

Grant reviewers: In this day and age when you have at least a grant in per round (you do, right?) you are going to run into people who are reviewing your grant in two weeks or have just reviewed your grant two weeks ago. Stay strong, stay focused. Talk to your colleagues, get to know them. She knows and you know that the grant issue is out there. So it can be a mite awkward, but my advice is to just ignore it. Keep in mind this little scenario is playing itself out all over the meeting so just try to be as natural as possible. Because you never know. Sometimes reviewers who have just seen your grant might go out of their way to make some “general” comments about grant review that may be helpful. Sometimes reviewers may take a decided interest in “what you are working on these days”. When opportunity calls, use it. The long-term advice here is to do general schmoozing at these meetings. This is your key opportunity to get to know your peers and you never know when this is going to come in handy in future grant reviewing. Obviously you are not going to jump all over someone you barely know just because s/he has your grant in hand. But if you’ve gotten to know them over the course of a couple of years…

Update: Dr. Shellie has an interesting post on networking tips for the timid.

4 Responses to “Scientific Meeting 101: The Schmoozery”

  1. Thomas Robey Says:

    Combine this with your previous post, and it seems like the start of a winning research programme!

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  2. drugmonkey Says:

    I can see where I come across as fairly cynical about the process. However I focus on the non-science aspects of grantsmanship and career because I think we get very little training in this stuff. Certainly I got next to none and learned some lessons the hard way. The politics and strategy is by no means a replacement for good science. But in my view just doing good, even great, science is not sufficient.

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  3. […] 21st, 2007 As mentioned, it is a meeting week in Drugmonkeyland. Naturally all the gender-equity buzz in blogoland had me thinking about issues […]

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  4. […] Can’t let BM have all the SfN fun, now can we? I discussed scientific meeting schmoozing before. By the middle of the SfN meeting I see that I’ve had substantive chats with four relevant […]

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