Recently, I talked with colleagues about the challenge of bringing researchers with questions to those with new information and techniques. Using technology is one way to help scientists step outside their professional comfort zone. The Clinical and Translational Science Center at Weill Cornell Medical College took a different approach and organized a “speed networking” event to bring together researchers.
Here is how it works: The organizers “reserved a room that could accommodate 100 people. The tables were set up to minimize noise, maximize easy movement around the tables, and facilitate conversation”. Basic scientists and clinical & translational researchers “sit on opposite sides of a table and chat for 3 minutes until a bell rings, signaling that it’s time to move on and strike up a new conversation. This process continues until everyone in one group has met everyone in the other group”. As a result, “eighty-five percent of the participants said they met at least one potential collaborator”.
Interestingly, even those who were not looking for collaborators could benefit. For example, Even Robert Dottin, director of the Center for Study of Gene Structure and Function at Hunter College, suggested potential collaborators from within his center.
Additional lessons learned:
- Require that registrants complete an online bio with photo, contact information, their research priorities and needs before the event.
- Be prepared to be flexible: “More than 80 people signed up” for the event that was free of charge; “one-third of the registrants didn’t show up”. But “many new people appeared on the day of the event to register onsite”.
- Use a cowbell instead of a microphone to be sure the signal to switch partners will be heard “over the din”.
- Color-coded ‘dance cards’ are useful which were to match the side of the table people sat on. The cards “listed the names and top research interests of each registrant, with a blank line to scribble a quick note”.
- Provide bottles of water, as people will spend about 2 hours talking almost nonstop.
- Keep the speed networking to an hour as people get exhausted
- The “wine-and-cheese hour that followed turned out to be a critical, because “people had ideas they were anxious to discuss.”
- Send a follow-up email with a link to the bios registrants completed.