Virtual Conference Observations

Observations on Virtual DIA 2020

2020, the year of the COVID-19/Protests/Riots/Presidential Election and the year the clinical research industry’s annual convention went virtual.

The noteworthiness of this made me think to jot down my observations.

I have been attending DIA since 1997. That year it was held in Montreal. Last year was in San Diego, which is probably the best place to have it in terms of weather.  The conference is always in the 3rd or 4th week of June.  The heat and humidity in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston has often been close to unbearable.

The biggest differences for me were:

  • I didn’t get to co-host the FOCM Networking event with my friends from Zymewire
  • I missed seeing everyone! Not seeing friends in person (this event is very much an industry reunion) and not getting to socialize with them makes it more difficult to maintain relationships
  • Seeing so few friends in the virtual exhibit hall (Thanks Adriana Grado and Amy Zastawney for taking time to meet with me). Every year I make a point to walk the entire exhibit hall to make sure I see and catch up with as many people as I can and to see what new and innovative products and services are available
  • I didn’t stay out too late (there was no virtual Transperfect party or vendor parties of any kind)
  • I didn’t drink too much.
  • I didn’t have a Fireball shot at the Barrington James exhibit.
  • I didn’t welcome any new FOCM members and hold any card ceremonies (I’ll have to re-write the card ceremony SOPs – the handshake may have to be eliminated)
  • Here it is the last day and I’m not exhausted.

As I have often told people younger and/or with less conference experience than me, at DIA – you will stay out too late and drink too much.  I point out that you HAVE to do this (it might even be in the SOP binder), because if you don’t, it wouldn’t be the tradition that it is.

A couple months ago I held a virtual FOCM Networking event with about 10 industry friends. I asked them if DIA were to be held in person, who would travel to DC for it.  The answer was no one.  Comments made were: it’s too risky, I don’t want to get on a plane, stay in a hotel, take a cab or Uber and go to a conference with 5000+ people.

We in this industry are proud of the role we’re playing and demonstrating to the world the value, the need and the method for discovering treatments for COVID-19. The need to utilize recent innovations in big data, AI, high throughput screening, lighten cumbersome regulatory hurdles will serve the world well for developing new treatments for all diseases.

 

 

The importance of Networking for Career Management



“Networking” to some people sounds more complicated than it is and may even generate feelings of discomfort.  “Networking” isn’t meeting strangers with a common interest in a noisy bar and shouting at each other, “what do you do?”  Although I’m sure many of you have experienced such an event.

To understand the role that networking plays in career management, let’s start with the evolving definition of NETWORKING. 

Investopedia describes NETWORKING as: the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting.

Dictionary.com describes NETWORKING as: a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.

Cambridge Dictionary describes NETWORKING as:  the process of meeting and talking to a lot of peopleesp. in order to get information that can help you

Historically, definitions of networking stressed the point was to meet people and determine how they could help you.  That self-centered approach has given way to the understanding that the purpose of networking is go create a mutually beneficial relationship.   In her book Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers and the Art of Networking, Heather Hollick presents the purpose of networking is to be helpful – leveraging who you know and what you know to help other people be successful, and surround yourself with other people who do the same. 

My Networking Philosophy to networking is: connecting people and companies to companies and people for their mutual benefit.  It is nice to see that Business Dictionary has added: Networking is based on the question – “how can I help?” and not “what can I get?”

Why Network

In the past, even as recent as 15 to 20 years ago, networking outside one’s company (think of a large pharmaceutical company) didn’t seem necessary.  There were still plenty of people who had been at the same company for 15 – 30 years and were doing well with no thought to changing jobs.  Then mergers, acquisitions and restructuring shook the industry.  People who had been at a company for many years and who were well networked within that company suddenly were out of work and realized they had no business network outside of that company.  That is exactly what happened to me and I made sure to learn from that experience.

Lesson Learned #1: Look at your situation with a wider perspective

While in shock, worrying if I’d have to move my family and going on interviews, I learned a lesson from a chance encounter with a former colleague who was in the same boat that as I was in.  We were both flying to New Jersey for interviews and I told him I didn’t have a good feeling about the company I was interviewing with, it had no culture, and the employees didn’t seem friendly.  He suggested I look at it differently – “could you do the job for a year?” is what he asked me.  My reply was, “of course.”  He helped me realize that there was nothing wrong with taking the job, making the most of my severance, and continuing to look for a role that reflected the highest and best use of my skills. And who knows? Maybe the job would be better than I first thought. This bit of advice completely changed my attitude and I interviewed as if this was the perfect job for me.  I got the job.  It turned out to be an okay fit but I kept one job opportunity open and when they offered me the position 5 months later, I took it.

Lesson Learned #2: Use this job to get to your next one.

Your new may not be THE job that carries you through the rest of your career.  Some have called such an experience, a “mulligan” or a “do-over” job.  Through the experience you learn that you are employable and you’re more in the driver’s seat than you think.  Your goal is to find the company and culture that fits you, and where you want to invest your energy and talent.

Lesson Learned #3: Be prepared

I do not consciously recall saying to myself “I’ll never be in that situation again.”  However, a look at my behavior since then indicates that I took that to heart.  At every conference I attended, I introduced myself to the people in the booth on either side and across from me at the conference.  When I wasn’t in the booth, I walked the exhibit hall asking questions, meeting people and learning about their companies and services.  In the past 15 years, when corporate restructuring or a personal decision to be in the market for a new job, I had job offers and was working within a short period of time.

Lesson Learned #4

Networking must be an integral part of managing your career. 

Making and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships will help you get promoted, take on challenging assignments, solve and help others solve work problems and successfully address issues.

Having polled many audiences at DIA networking workshops over the past 10 years, the percentage of people who are in their current job due to networking is around 85%.  Very few people are in their current job in our industry by replying to online job postings.

Networking also helps your career by:

  • Being seen as proactive, active, resourceful, smart, and engaged
  • Bringing new experiences to your life
  • Building loyalty, trust, and dependability
  • Increasing your communication skills, influence, and patience

Now, how do you do this? 

In almost every state there is an organization to foster and support biotech and pharma companies.  NJ Bio, PA Bio, NC Biotech are examples.  Join them and find out when they have events.  LaunchBio (https://launchbio.org/) is an organization that hosts monthly events with speakers on relevant topics to the industry and are located in: Cambridge, MA; Durham, NC; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; San Diego, CA and San Francisco, CA. 

Now, how do you really do this?

  • When attending events, if there’s an opportunity to pre-register, do so.  This usually means you get a printed name tag.  Wear it. 
  • Put the name tag on the right side of your chest.  This makes it visible to who you meet as you shake hands.
  • Dress sharp and professional.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Smile, be positive and maintain a pleasant demeanor.
  • Be Personable – remember and use people’s names.
  • Be helpful – look for ways to offer information, to a favor, or make an introduction.
  • Be someone others WANT to connect to.
  • Ask “what are you working on?” instead of “what do you do?”
  • Be interested – ask others for their business cards (and have yours ready for them).
  • Follow up – thoughtfully and invite to connect on LinkedIn.
  • Put down your phone.

A section from Heather Hollick’s book carries this noteworthy message: Your network…stays with you from job to job and career to career.  It is entirely your creation and no one can take it away from you… build a network that becomes your tribe – the people to whom you are loyal and who, you trust, are loyal to you.