This afternoon, twenty-five professional public historians graciously participated in an experimental session designed to help integrate graduate students and young professionals more fully into the conference: speed networking. Loosely modeled on “speed dating,” the session enabled fifty conference newcomers, rotating in pairs, to spend fifteen minute intervals with public historians from a variety of specialty fields. As one of a team of organizers, I think I can accurately say we were nervous about how the session would work, logistically as well as philosophically.
All early indications are that we need not have worried.
Prior to the speed networking session, Melissa Bingmann and I led an informal conversation about social networking. Last minute technical difficulties prevented us from demonstrating the social networking sites facebook and linkedin. However, based on our use of both sites for our own professional networking, we provided students with both formal and informal advice about how to build effective professional relationships. We confessed to the mistakes we had made in our own efforts to make and manage networks. Perhaps most importantly, we encouraged students to recognize networking as a long term process –one that includes the creation and nurturing of relationships not only with professionals in positions of power, but also with fellow graduate students and entry level peers.
Students and new professionals entered into the speed networking session well prepared to engage in conversations about their own work and interests. We encouraged them to recognize the session as an opportunity to break the ice, not a job fair. While it is not yet possible to measure the long term impact of the speed networking session, by all immediate evidence, the event was a great success. Graduate students reported feeling more comfortable after having been instructed in protocol. The imposition of a time limit and rotation schedule lent just enough structure to the networking process. Both students and professionals reported meeting people with whom they intended to remain in contact after the conference, and everyone said the event was both informative and fun.