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Working the Room

At some point in your graduate career, you will have the opportunity to mingle with others informally at conferences, departmental colloquia, social hours, and other events — it’s inevitable. If you find these situations uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Read on to learn how to “work a room” with confidence, poise and style. The result could be identifying contacts and information that can help you reach your goals.

Getting ready

Attend as many receptions and networking events as possible so you can practice working a room before it really counts. Make or order some business cards to distribute at the event. Prior to an event, collect information about it and the venue. Brush up on your current events so you sound intelligent and well-rounded; web surfing can be an easy way to do this. Prepare a short personal script so you can confidently introduce yourself — without sounding “scripted.” Consider writing a 10-second and a 60-second summary of your teaching and/or research so that you can speak about it confidently and consistently.

Looking good

Dress appropriately for the occasion. If you’re not sure what to wear, ask a colleague or check the event website for attire instructions and photos from previous events — or, err on the side of safety by dressing up more rather than less. Try to limit how much stuff you bring. For example, you don’t want your backpack to fall off your shoulder and spill wine all over somebody. Write and display your name tag clearly.

Managing the munchies

Remember, your main goal is to make contacts. Don’t camp out at the refreshment or beverage table. Think small — stick with small foods that are easy to eat, limit your plate to a small amount of food, take small bites and drink alcohol in moderation. Try to leave your right hand free and dry so you can shake hands; you might even consider keeping a napkin in your pocket so you can periodically clean and dry your hands.

Jumping in

If you don’t want to look like a loner, make eye contact with somebody in a group that includes a familiar face or a group with a physical gap. Approach the group and then, as appropriate, shake hands firmly, introduce yourself in one to two sentences at most, and start short conversations about non-controversial topics. If it becomes clear a group doesn’t want to include you, don’t take it personally. Find another group, start your own by finding other individuals who are wandering aimlessly, or make conversation with somebody at the refreshment table. Remember that a positive, confident attitude goes a long way in social situations!

Keeping it going

After introductions and “small talk,” what next? Discuss commonalities you share with other group members. Perhaps you belong to the same organization, went to the same school and so on. Ask others to talk about their research, job, career path, or workplace; most people enjoy talking about themselves. Once a connection has been developed, you can ask for academic advice, career tips or referrals to other contacts. It’s best not to ask directly for jobs because doing so tends to make others uncomfortable. Focus on the conversation, but don’t monopolize it, one-up people or invade others’ personal space. Be sure to welcome and introduce others who approach your group.

Breaking out

When you’re ready to exit a group, ask for business cards and distribute yours, as appropriate. Express appreciation for the conversation, and excuse yourself. Visit the refreshment table, approach another group, or call it a night.

Bringing it home

The event is not over when it’s over! After the event while the experience is still fresh in your mind, jot down informal notes about the people you met so you’ll remember their names, titles, and stories. Follow through with any promises you made to those with whom you interacted. If appropriate, send a thank-you note to the event host.

Last-minute tips

Be sure to silence your cell phone. Take some breath mints. If you make a mistake, don’t get rattled; laugh about it, learn from the situation and move on. Most importantly — be friendly, sincere, genuine, confident and interested in others.


Ryan, R. (2005). Soaring on your strengths. Toronto: Penguin.

Thompson, K., & Wein, T. I. (2005). Speak up, shake hands, and smile. The Chronicle of Higher Education

Zupek, R. (2007). The worst way to shake hands.

by Briana K. Randall, associate director, UW Career Center

Presenting Your Research at Academic Conferences

Academic conferences allow you to:

  • Start developing your research agenda. Get useful feedback on your research as you convert conference papers into journal articles.
  • Gain visibility with future colleagues, employers, and future collaborators.
  • Start networking and meet people (other graduate students, future colleagues and mentors, researchers you admire).
  • Interview for jobs.

Which conferences?

Most UW departments are well-represented at key national academic conferences.

Many professional associations have divisions that may reflect your department’s areas of expertise. Graduate students also find it useful to present their research at topic-specific conferences. Check with faculty to see which organizations hold conferences where it would be appropriate for your research to be presented.

When and how?

Deadlines for conferences are usually noted on academic organizations’ websites. When considering how to submit your research, be sure to check submission requirements. Some conferences require full papers, while others will consider only abstracts. Be sure to adhere to these details and all deadlines, and be sure to submit your work to a relevant division! (What constitutes “relevant?” Check abstracts and programs from previous years’ conferences.)

At the conference…

Some departments provide funds that allow you to travel to conferences to present your research. In addition to talking about your research in a variety of ways, take advantage of being at the conference to learn about the field, meet other people, and participate.

Presenting your research

You will be judged first and foremost on your research, which means that you should strive for a great presentation. In other words:

  • Know what attendees at this particular conference expect, e.g., reading your paper vs. summarizing your paper? PowerPoint slides?
  • Know your research and what it contributes to the larger body of research.
  • Never, ever, exceed the allotted time! Think of your presentation as a headline service. You cannot cover all points, so select the ones you believe are most important.

How to navigate the conference

Read the conference program; attend the sessions that interest you, but don’t plan every hour.

Be ready with a brief “elevator talk” about your research. Conferences are very busy times, and people will not have time to hear a full explication of all your research projects.

Identify the individuals you would like to meet and ask your mentor/adviser to introduce you.

Introduce yourself to people. Many graduate students feel as if they know no one, so you’re not alone. If you are interested in meeting faculty and “big names,” walk up to them when they appear to have a spare moment, and talk about how you are using their research in your own work. Chances are they will want to learn more about you and your work.

Attend graduate forums and receptions.

Socialize at receptions held by various departments and schools.

Regardless of the sessions you attend and the people you meet, always remain professional. You want to be remembered for your research and professional demeanor, not anything else!

Presenting Your Work To a Broad Audience

There are many transferable skills you can develop in graduate school that will prepare you for many types of careers. These may include the ability to synthesize complex information (studying, reading, and engaging in class discussions), manage a large project (a capstone, thesis, or dissertation), prioritize tasks (balancing your studies, work, and personal life), meet multiple deadlines, and work independently or in collaborative settings.

One transferable skill you may consider developing during your time at UW is presenting your research to an audience made up of individuals who are not necessarily experts in your research specialization or field of study. Below are tips for preparing and presenting your work for a broader audience.

Communicate your research to a broad audience. Maybe you’re developing a three-minute networking pitch or preparing for a non-academic job talk. Maybe you’re finally ready to discuss your research project or capstone with family, friends, or community groups. Interested in sharing the significance of your project with policy makers? No matter the setting, presenting your research in an accessible manner for different audiences can help you and your work have a broader impact.

Know your audience. As mentioned above, you may be speaking to a potential employer or a local community group. Do your research ahead of time to know what might resonate with your audience and understand why they might be invested in your work. And no matter the audience, it’s important to be mindful that you are not “talking down” to individuals you are presenting to. You are framing your work in terms — and perhaps stories or contexts — they care about.

Prepare content. Utilize a guide for preparing effective slides or visuals or get advice and support from the UW Research Commons Design Help Desk. Regardless of your chosen visual format, identify a powerful anecdote, a quotation, or a question that can capture your audience’s attention and is connected to the main point of your presentation. Less is more, so include two or three sub-points that connect to your research question or finding. Avoid including a lot of technical or academic jargon, as this may unintentionally lead to audience disengagement. Finally, consider closing with a question, anecdote or visual that ties everything together — and that again— will capture the audience’s attention.

Practice your talk. Schedule times to practice in front of peers outside of your department, loved ones, or even co-workers before your actual talk. Ask for feedback to learn if your audience can follow your story, if they feel engaged, and if they have a clear take-home message from your presentation.

Want practice in a low stakes, fun, and guided way? Submit a proposal Scholars’ Studio! Or, be an audience member at a Scholars’ Studio event this quarter or in winter and learn from your grad student peers!


Core Programs Team

Additional Resources

Postdocs, You Are Public Thought Leaders!

You have ideas what you are passionate about, and you have spent years cultivating expertise. Now, how do you get your voice heard? How can you work to advance the issues? How can you influence change?

In mid-April, the Office of Postdoc Affairs co-hosted a workshop from the OpEd Project, a national effort to diversify the voices we hear in public conversations. The facilitator Michele Weldon has 3 decades as a public thought leader through her books, articles, and media work. Certain key points stood out from the workshop:

  • Own your expertise. You are an expert in _____ because ______. What are you a go-to person for? On what basis do you have credibility in this area? Own it, even if it feels there are others around you who are more established, more credentialed, more famous. We need YOUR voice and perspective in the world for real impact to occur.
  • Personal promotion isn’t self-serving (only), it is working toward public service. That is, you aren’t just “tooting your own horn” when you say your voice matters, you are bringing attention to issues that are critical to you.  The bigger your sphere of influence the greater impact for change you can have. Reframe your approach to self-promoting activities like tweeting, blogging, writing pieces for public audiences/radio spots to building your sphere of influence for issues you care about. And, as a result, you distinguish yourself in what may be a crowded field.
  • “If you say things of consequence, there will be consequences. But the risk and alternative is to be inconsequential.” (OpEd Project saying) Anticipate nay-sayers. As you practice your response to those who will say “who cares” and “why you”, you can be ready to stand your ground with calm, clear and respectful confidence. Sometimes these doubting voices come from within our own heads. Practice saying the same calm, confident response back when that voice of self-doubt or imposter syndrome rises up. #OwnIt
  • Make a pitch to an editor. Craft a tight 4-5 sentence email that showcases the following:  So what? Why you? Why now? What’s the contribution?  Why this outlet? And then sign it with your full name and affiliations. Then cut/paste your 600-800 essay right below that (no attachments).  Editors are busy and they want to scan what you have, not take an extra step to ask for it.   You can use a descriptive email subject line: Timely commentary on ______.

We know that peer reviewed publications are still the coin of the realm as far as your own academic career goes. But how do you get people to read your peer reviewed publications? How can they make the kind of impact you’d like? Amplify your work by pairing peer-reviewed publications with pieces you write for the public conversation or using social media to get your work in front of more people in your professional networks.  Many postdocs have created their own professional websites to gather together examples of their research and engagement activities, to reflect more of who they are. Websites, coupled with social media, can expand your reach and help you stand out from others in a job search or otherwise crowded space. See Future of Ice Initiative postdoc Sarah Myhre’s website as a terrific example of this, and check out how she features both peer reviewed research and news media highlights. Have a good example of your own?  Send it to us, we want to feature it in an upcoming newsletter!

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Originally posted on April 21, 2016.