Conferences, trainings, and outreach — I’m just trying to stay professionally relevant
This week, I am attending the ASAP 12th Annual National Training Conference in Arlington, Virginia. In March, I took a leap of faith and switched from the world of food and drug law to privacy law in human services research. Sexy, right? The problem is that my understanding of privacy was all within HIPAA and other healthcare-related laws. So I’ve been taking a deep dive into The Privacy Act, and ASAP is helping me learn what I need to be successful. But don’t worry about the technical details of my job (I promise, it’s way more exciting than it sounds). This post is all about networking and not a crash course in old statutes from 1974.
The word “networking” usually elicits one of two responses: excitement or dread. For extroverts like me, it’s all excitement. We love to mix and mingle and enjoy a hands-on day away from the office. For the more introverted crowd, networking may not be as fun. Despite which group you fall into, networking has become almost mandatory nowadays if you want to continue to move up the career ladder.
The biggest barrier to networking? Cost. I’m lucky for a few reasons. One is that I live in a major metro area that is a hotspot for big conferences and trainings, meaning that I don’t have to worry about flights or hotels. I’m also fortunate to have an employer who pays for most of my trainings. But if you don’t live in a big city or your boss isn’t willing to budget for a conference, there are still some great ways to make connections.
First, sign up for free newsletters from major organizations that align with your career goals. These are great resources to find out about things like webinars which are excellent ways to virtually interact. You can also find out about job opportunities and stay informed on the latest trends and knowledge in your field. Since I work in law and public health, these are the organizations that I have signed up with:
- CDC Public Health Law News
- The Network for Public Health Law
- American Public Health Association
- Equal Justice Works
- National Center for Medical Legal Partnership
- Food and Drug Law Institute
Second, look in depth at different organizations and decide whether a paid membership is worthwhile. For students, keep in mind that a lot of organizations provided student memberships at a very discounted rate. For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) offers premium student memberships for only $25. Premium student members can also receive discounts on things like bar prep materials. Students have the option of a free membership as well which does not have as many benefits as the premium membership but is still beneficial in many ways. I currently hold memberships with the ABA, American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA), and American Public Health Association (APHA).
My memberships give me access to exclusive webinars and curated news, discounted conference registrations, and local networking events. I can also get more involved by holding positions on committees, which I currently do in the ABA Health Lawyers Section. Being on a committee gives me opportunities to facilitate portions of conferences, moderate webinars and panels, and draft written newsletter material. If you pay for a membership, get your money’s worth! Take full advantage of every opportunity that you can.
Third, make good use of professional social media platforms like LinkedIn and Bumble Bizz. I’ve used LinkedIn on many occasions to find established professionals both inside and outside of my organization who can provide mentorship and advice. I also connect with students and younger professionals who I can guide myself. Establishing links both ways widens your network and gives you the best chance at making meaningful connections.
Once you have connected with more seasoned professionals, reach out and ask for informational interviews. Informational interviews are informal ways to learn about your field or other fields you are interested in as well as to get useful insights on where you should go next in your career. Don’t be shy about asking them to review your resume or give you honest feedback about your current career projection. If they agreed to an interview, they likely want to be as helpful as possible. Sometimes, these informational interviews can even lead to future job offers.
Finally, get creative with your networking. Not every connection has to be made via a formal conference or training. You can seek out casual interest groups and events in your area and meet plenty of professionals that way. One example is Nerd Nite, a national, monthly presentation in various cities that allows nerds to come together and talk about what they love. I have presented at Nerd Nites in both Memphis and DC, and I always meet many lawyers and public health practitioners who work in my field. I even met someone whose office was across the street from mine. Networking can happen anywhere from a trivia night to a Meetup museum outing. Just keep in mind when in these settings that your goal is to make professional connections, so keep a check on things like alcohol consumption.
Networking is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Keep an open mind and remember that you get out of it what you put into it!