I’ve talked in the past about how to network at scientific conferences–how to overcome any shyness you might have in order to talk to the people you’d like to talk to. The Evolution 2012 meeting is trying an interesting experiment on this. Poster presenters have been given the opportunity to browse the list of attendees and select a few to invite to their poster. Their chosen invitees then get an email from the conference organizers, listing the posters to which they’ve been invited and asking them to make every effort to accept the invitation.
This seems like a very creative idea to me, not something I’d ever have thought of.* I’ll be interested to see how it works out. I would think it would facilitate some interactions that wouldn’t happen otherwise. If someone looks through a list of thousands of people and invites you to their poster, that’s a bit hard to turn down (well, maybe not if you get a whole lot of invites, but I’m guessing nobody’s going to get more than a few invitations) And while some of those interactions might end up being brief or awkward–say, a student invites Dr. Famous to their poster purely as a way to meet Dr. Famous, even though Dr. Famous works on something totally different–I don’t see that as a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
On the other hand, I would encourage those who are using this system to consider whether it might not be more effective to email people personally if you really want them to come to your poster. Everyone’s busy and has lots of demands on their time. If you want someone to allocate some of their scarce time to come to your poster, it might be more effective to allocate some of your own time to sending them a personal email. Introduce yourself and your work, and briefly state why you’d like whoever you’re inviting to come to your poster. By putting in a bit of time and effort, you’re giving an “honest signal” that’s probably more likely to elicit a positive response, at least from people about my age and older.** Just a suggestion.
They’re only doing this for posters, not talks, and I think that’s the right call given that they’re trying this out for the first time. Most people already have lots of time conflicts when it comes to choosing talks, and so using the system for talks would probably result in many declined invitations. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great for people to invite each other to their talks, but for now that’s probably best done the old-fashioned way, via an email directly from the speaker to the invitee.
*Maybe it seems like a no-brainer to the younger generation, with their tweeps and their Bookface and their MySpace and whatnot. (MySpace is still a thing, right?)