SFN 2015: What are the socials for?

The SFN Annual Meeting is famous for the overwhelming barrage of science being fire-hosed at you. It is intimidating and can be impersonal.

Almost equally famous, particularly for the experienced hands, are the evening thematic socials. These are gatherings that may be focused on a scientific topic (Dopamine), University, lab (for the big ones), academic society (yes, the competition comes to SFN to troll for members) and/or organized by vendors (such as a journal/publisher).

Here is a list of the things I accomplished at one social this year:

-Talked with a colleague from whom I requested an emergency grant support letter just prior to the meeting. I explained the wheres/whys and thanked her profusely.

-Chatted with a colleague who is in semi-competition with one of our research domains. We worked some stuff out, talked a little about plans and I hope pre-empted what could have been bad feelings on one side or another.

-I met a junior scientist (that I didn't know except second hand) who had asked me for a letter of support for a grant application on the recommendation of a PO. This person told me more about the project and I was able to comment on a few things.

-Met a philanthropist who donated to a lab in which I have an interest. I kid you not.

-Chatted with a more-senior member of my field who is of pretty high stature in a subfield. I would not necessarily have gotten to know this investigator absent this particular SFN social over the past couple of years. This PI commented about my research directions in a thoughtful way that shows she actually knows me beyond social recognition.

-Met a postdoc who is nearing the job market in a subfield in which I have slightly better than average ear-tuning about job openings. I will be able to forward things that I hear about to this person now.

That's off the top of my head. I am sure there were several less-obviously work-related conversations that in fact have a work-related component to them.

So there are two points.

First, when you hear people talking about this or that fantastic party they attended at SFN, remember that these socials are there for work and career related purposes.

Second, the party that I am referring to was BANTER, organized by Scientopia's very own Dr Becca over the past five or six years. The organizing theme is not any of the usual one that you might think of as being specific to your career interests. It is based on the online science community, most especially the Twitter-based neuroscience community. It is not screened for any particular subdomain of neuroscience, including mine, and yet I had the above-mentioned interactions.

The implication* of this latter observation is that you can engage in useful work-related conversations at almost any SFN social, which means that it can be less forced. Go to the ones where you have the most interest, or an "in" or whatever. The key is to be....well....social.

___
*I think it also points to how firmly BANTER has become implanted on the SFN social map. Well done Dr Becca, well done.

41 responses so far

  • Philapodia says:

    Silly rabbit, socials at meetings are for generating carefully crafted blackmail on potential reviewers to increase the odds of your grants being funded.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I only see the best in people Philapodia.

  • drugmonkey says:

    [Funny story though. I did pass on introducing myself to someone at a social because I had just seen the study section roster for a grant I have up for review. Thought it would look a little funny to barge right up and the more naturalistic scenario never presented itself.]

  • Susan says:

    I wish I could manage the energy to go, especially to Banter, but I'm just wiped by that late. I really regret that chronic health things have this detrimental effect of my career.

    And really, do junior scientists regularly include grant support letters from people they don't know? Now I feel really out of the loop.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I don't know about regularly, hard to say. But it does happen that people ask for letters from people they don't know. or don't know particularly well.

    in the case I am mentioning here, it made perfect sense and I was happy to supply a letter.

  • drugmonkey says:

    In case it isn't clear, these letters are of the "happy to help you with your awesome project" variety, and not of the "I would like to tell the panel that this person is awesome" type of talk that is similar to the recommendation letter.

  • Ewan says:

    So.. on the good side, I made it to my first BANTER. And (i) got to thank someone for their support over the past couple of years - you know who you are :); (ii) enjoyed trying to get the balloon bundles to neutral buoyancy; (iii) took a neat photo of the saline dropper bottle at the bar.

    But then.. I was reminded that despite going to the SfN networking session 🙂 I have no clue how to be good at party-type networking. So I forgot to try a negroni 🙁 and went back to the hotel.

    Not seeking pity in the slightest 🙂 - I shall try again, fail again, and fail better! Perhaps name tags next time, though, despite their geekiness? Or even icebreaker games - I could happily organise such. Or, I am in a small minority in having this issue and am quite happy - indeed, will be delighted - to be told so.

    And none of that should detract from the fact that it was clearly a packed, greatly-enjoyed, and successful party; vivat, Becca et al.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is hilarious that I've been trying to meet you since I had a small DM blog focused get-together at one SFN and I WAS RIGHT NEXT TO YOU WHEN YOU TOOK THAT PICTURE and I didn't know it. oh well.

  • potnia theron says:

    "In case it isn't clear, these letters are of the "happy to help you with your awesome project" variety, and not of the "I would like to tell the panel that this person is awesome" type of talk that is similar to the recommendation letter."

    Letters along the line of "this person is awesome" are ignored.

    Letters of support from a collaborator along the lines of "Dear Person X: I am so glad to participate in your project and do QRP for you" are not only critical but necessary.

    I feel a post coming on...

  • Microscientist says:

    I'm impressed that you still have socials at these large meetings. ASM eliminated them several years ago citing cost. Now the only ones left are the vendor parties, which are an entire other universe. I'm jealous.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Well these are generally sponsored, I believe. The smaller societies fund their own gigs, often off the actual conference site at one of the meeting hotels.

    BANTER was sponsored by
    Nature publishing group, Neuroscience Information Framework and International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility. Thanks to them all for the support.

    There might be some that SFN pays for, I guess, like the invite-only BSD Presidential one.

  • becca says:

    Clearly, my youth was not spent correctly at learning to socialize in Banter like contexts. I mean, I had a lovely time and think it was a good party but... anything more wild than Cards Against Humanity and shots with old friends is probably not ideal for me.

  • qaz says:

    The problem is that I still have not leveled up to achieve the ability to be in two places at once. I had three to four socials to be at each evening, plus already committed to dinners with friends I never get to see. This year was particularly frustrating because the socials were at several different places separated by half hour cab/bus rides.

    There's got to be some way to spread the quantum wave function out to probabilistically be at all the socials...

  • clueless noob says:

    I'm sure everyone's as delightful in person as they are online, but after a full SfN conference day I'm pretty much only up for curling into the fetal position in my hotel room. Feigning extraversion for that long wears my shit out. Or is it considered acceptable to work from one's hotel room the day of the social? That, I could swing.

  • Mytchondria says:

    For a true ProTips, I'd say be sure to let those you trust introduce you to newbs.
    After a solid year of bantering, you get a grip on who people want to be.

    One of the philanthropy types was with me and a pseud was about to introduce themselves as something snarky 'drunk teradacytle' or whatnot. I quickly pointed out she was a young scientist w an interest similar to something philanthropist liked.

    Side note: At some point Ted and I should haz a blog on how to interact with donors because it's a big deal and done poorly by many. But not Ted. He's a star. With nice socks.

  • Geo says:

    I truly miss the beloved New Orleans SFN postdoc socials on Bourbon St in the '80s.

  • Philapodia says:

    Y'all are making us non-neuro nerds jealous with your fancy "social gatherings" that we're not invited to.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Everybody misses SFN in NOLA. Except the people who decide on where the meeting goes. It is SO weird......

  • jipkin says:

    When reading this at first I thought you were talking about the "Socials" which are the like 6 pm officially-scheduled-in-the-convention-center things in an awkwardly too big room. The parties, indeed, are where the real networking is at.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am talking about the 6pm Socials *also*. They may be a little stilted but they have positive features.

  • jipkin says:

    I went into one of those my first SfN... I don't think they're meant for 1st year grad students haha. Maybe once you know people in the field you get more out of them but ever since I've just gone to dinner during those.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yes but that is one of the ways you get to know people in the field. I had a very senior editor of a journal I publish in walk up and start chatting out of the blue just this very week. This EIC also got in a convo with some undergrads thinking about grad school.

  • tom says:

    bummed I miss this years meeting. next year...in san diego!

  • […] has a good post up on What I Did at SfN This Year. In he mentions someone asking him for a letter of support. This […]

  • Dr Becca says:

    So glad to hear all of this, DM! It makes me so happy to see how banter has grown into more than just a "meet your twitter friends IRL" party, but an actual legit part of the meeting with professional benefits!

  • Grumble says:

    Great, glad you enjoy these things. Personally I prefer a visit to the dentist. Even the kind that involves drilling.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It isn't about enjoyment.

  • Because my lab has created some very useful technical tools, I get about a dozen requests per year for letters of support regarding providing consultation in the effective use of those tools.

  • Grumble says:

    Maybe I misread a room full of people talking to each other convivially while quaffing alcoholic beverages as evidence of "enjoyment." If you look like you're enjoying it but aren't, then you are faking it in order to gain exactly the benefits you describe in your post.

    But some of us are incapable of faking it. Not "don't want to", but "can't".

  • drugmonkey says:

    If you can only imagine "enjoying" versus "faking" you lack imagination about the diversity of people and their approaches to social settings. As far as "cannot" goes, well, a lot of times that is not autism-spectrum or agoraphobia talking but it is a refusal to learn or to try.

    As someone who is natively not exceptionally outgoing, and feels like he still to this day has to mentally steel for some* social interactions, I am not super sympathetic to pleas of "cannot".

    *practice helps

  • Wait, DM was at BANTER? And I didn't meet him? Or maybe I did and had no idea?!

  • 1-75 Scientist says:

    was my first SfN, and likewise my first Banter. I generally dislike large parties and am awful at starting conversations with people I don't know. This sort of environment helped to break the ice for me, and so was definitely a good time. I can now die saying I've had (well tried) a negroni, although, unless forced upon me never again. Had some great talks with those I did get to meet, mostly about starting life as a new PI but also about careers with students and postdocs. Hopefully will meet more in future years.

  • namaste_ish says:

    Nothing good happens in NoLa. It's corrupt, money doesn't trickle down and the state continually fails to support science education. They are dead to us. Get over it. Looking to Nashville to fill the void of south, manageable and fun. DC is a hellhole

  • drugmonkey says:

    JGG- blame Sci dude. Didn't realize it was you right next to her until later.....

  • Selerax says:

    " DC is a hellhole "

    Am in DC right now (headed there right after SfN). Can NOT confirm.

    Admittedly, as a typical eurotrash visitor, I may be suffering from dumb tourist syndrome right now (still digesting the sheer scale of the National Mall. So are my leg muscles.)

    From a conference viewpoint, I'm not sure what's so bad about it that isn't even worse in either Chicago or San Diego?

  • shrew says:

    @ I75 Scientist - those negronis are undrinkable bitter nonsense. Supertaster 4 lyfe.

    However, Dr Becca smiled approvingly upon the many, many sidecars I consumed over our various times together, and thus I propose the sidecar as the backup drink of Banter.

  • MF says:

    The banter sounds like a great event!

    So how much self-promotion, social media presence etc. "should" people be doing at meetings? Obviously, there is no single answer but I am curious.

    My society's annual meetings encourage social media and networking. I have just added my Twitter handle to my profile (for the conference app) and am contemplating whether or not to make the profile public (only a small portion of conference attendees seem to do so). Overall, the people I know seem to fall into two categories - those who have no social media presence and spend all of their efforts on their research and old-fashioned hands-on networking vs. those who actively promote their work, papers, sessions they are chairing etc. on Twitter.

  • Grumble says:

    "Lacking imagination about the diversity of people and their approaches to social settings" and being on the autism spectrum are far from mutually exclusive. That said, I've never considered myself on the autism spectrum, yet I have no idea - none whatsoever - how anyone, using any approach I am familiar with, could possibly enjoy this sort of social gathering. Even imagination completely fails me.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Maybe next #banter we should have some social mentors signed up. With ribbons or something.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    Traditionally that's the mark of a good host(ess). When he or she is able to identify people that have things in common but don't know each other, then she makes the introduction. Officially designating a few of your more social and well-connected people to act in that capacity would definitely be appreciated by junior and more shy individuals.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Ooh, I like this idea! Official BANTER conversation facilitators! They can have ribbons!

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