Ask An Expert

Advice from seasoned psychologists on the best ways to reach out to others at APA's Annual Convention and other top psychology meetings.

Lindsey R. Buckman, PsyD

Buckman Psychological Consultants, Phoenix, Ariz.

It can be intimidating to be the new kid on the block at a professional conference, but through preparation and practice you can network with confidence.

First develop a one-minute "elevator pitch," or synopsis, of your interests and career goals. This will help you succinctly communicate your goals and allow you to draw others in.

Second, research the interests of professionals you may want to meet and develop specific questions to ask when you are introduced. This will keep you from fumbling for things to say when in the presence of an admired researcher or clinician.

Last, practice, practice, practice. Start small and build up to conversations that may be more intimidating. Begin by introducing yourself to the people sitting next to you during presentations and practice your elevator pitch with your neighbor.

Also, remember that nearly everyone is delighted to talk with students and early career professionals, so you will likely get a warm reception.

Helen L. Coons, PhD

Women's Mental Health Associates, Philadelphia

Don't underestimate the importance of networking at meetings — one of my closest colleagues and mentors today is a faculty member I met as a young graduate student at an APA Annual Convention in the early '80s!

Don't hesitate to introduce yourself to colleagues in APA, division and state leadership roles or share your research, clinical and policy interests.

Be sure to follow up with an email, letter or thank-you note after the meeting.

Garth A. Fowler, PhD

APA's Education Directorate

Most people assume marketing yourself means promoting your list of publications and the techniques you learned in graduate school. But marketing and networking are about making connections. When you are at a meeting or conference, take the time to think about what you are looking for — a job, a collaborator, advice on a particular experiment — before you attend any event. Make sure you take a few seconds to think about why what you want is relevant to the person you're addressing.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, PhD

Policy consultant, California State Senate;Representative, APA Committee on Early Career Psychologists

I often see students stick close to their classmates and professors at convention. Instead, take advantage of every opportunity to meet new students and professionals who have done meaningful work in your area. Practice a 15-second introduction including your name, program, advisor, research interest and why you are interested in following up with the person. Make sure to attend convention social hours, as well as smaller gatherings in division suites. Always carry business cards, and follow up with everyone you receive a card from.

Shawn M. McClintock, PhD, MSCS

Associate professor, Duke University School of Medicine;Chair, APA Committee on Early Career Psychologists

Remember the three Ps: plan, prepare and polish.

First, plan ahead. Look at the meeting program and contact speakers and presenters to arrange in-person meetings. Also, map out your agenda so that you make time to attend sessions related to your career and social activities where you can network with peers and senior colleagues.

Second, be prepared. Bring your business cards and updated curriculum vitae in both paper and electronic format. Also, have your calendar available should you need to schedule follow-up meetings.

Last, be polished. Dressing for success will put you ahead of the game for that impromptu internship, fellowship or other career opportunity interview.

Susan H. McDaniel, PhD

Institute for the Family, University of Rochester Medical Center; APA's Board of Directors

If you hear a particularly good presentation, go up and introduce yourself afterward and tell the person what you liked about his or her talk and how it connects with your work. Also, be sure to:

  • Ask someone you know to introduce you to someone they know whom you'd like to meet.
  • Step up to the plate. Seriously, people love talented younger people. That's you!
  • Take (calculated) risks. Recent prize for this one goes to (APAGS Chair) Jennifer Doran, who sang "Somewhere over the Rainbow" at her first Division Leadership Conference. It was a knockout; and she will certainly be remembered. (This would not be good to do if, like me, you can't sing.)
  • Introduce yourself in the elevator or elsewhere to anyone who looks interesting and is wearing an APA badge. It's a club, and you belong.
  • When you see me at convention, introduce yourself. I look forward to meeting you!

Nancy S. Molitor, PhD

Clinical psychologist, Wilmette, Ill.

Before you attend APA's convention, do your homework! Create and print your own business card that features your graduate or professional school, your expected date of graduation and degree, and of course, all your contact information.

Also, review the APA convention program index by presenters and topics in your area. You can even reach out to selected presenters ahead of time. Attend the presentations that interest you and don't be afraid to approach presenters after their presentations — even the big names in our field are flattered when graduate students take the time to chat with them. Give them your business card and most important, follow up with a thank-you email within the week.

If you really hit it off with the presenter, ask them if they plan to attend a social hour at convention. Keep in touch on an ongoing basis. Marketing is all about ongoing relationship cultivation, and who's better at that than psychologists, right?

Pauline Wallin, PhD

The Practice Institute, Camp Hill, Pa.

Employers and training directors must choose from dozens or hundreds of applicants. You want to stand out, but not appear pushy. Solution: Be complimentary and enthusiastic.

Everyone appreciates and tends to remember sincere compliments. So, when approaching prospective employers at the convention, start off by mentioning something they wrote or lectured about. If possible, name one or two of their colleagues who speak favorably about their work.

Briefly describe how that ties into your own professional interests or goals.

Finally, ask if you can contact them to discuss internship or job opportunities. Get their business card, and follow up soon!

Ask the experts includes both senior and early career psychology experts. To submit a question to be answered in our next issue, email Sara Martin.