Last year was my first year attending CSM and while it was a truly rewarding experience, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit overwhelmed.  I mean, the conference is HUGE. I think last year attendance reached over 11,000 individuals at the conference, and it sure felt like it. Naturally introverted, I was hesitant about this whole “networking” thing. I wanted to reach out and communicate with professionals who could potentially assist with my professional growth, but was unsure of where to even start. My friend from class had attended NSC in 2015 and told me he met someone there who would be good to communicate with at CSM. Having been told the same thing by a student on the Student Assembly BOD, I figured I should just suck it up and go talk to her. She was speaking at a class on leadership on guess what: introverts. After the class I approached her and asked for some networking advice, and the rest of the conference was so much more manageable when it came to networking.

So I figured why not reach out to her and see if she couldn’t offer similar advice to the students attending CSM this year. I hope you all can find her advice as helpful as I did and get a head start on networking for CSM 2017!

1. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and give us an idea of what you currently are involved in:

Well, I’m originally from Fairbanks, Alaska. I went to undergrad at Haverford College, which is a small college outside Philadelphia. I took a year off after undergrad and worked as a soccer coach and biology teacher at a private school outside London. I came back to go to Duke for PT school and graduated in 2011. I went to work for a small company in Carrboro, NC that was then bought by Proaxis Therapy (now a part of ATI). I worked my mornings in a sports clinic treating athletes of all sorts but a lot of endurance and high school athletes, as well as general orthopedic patients. In the afternoon I worked in the training room at a large youth soccer club. I got my SCS in 2012 and then in 2013 I decided to move to Delaware and pursue a PhD in Biomechanics and Movement Science. So I am currently hoping to finish this spring. I study primary and secondary ACL injury prevention.

2. You were instrumental to my ability to network at CSM 2016, and I believe you played an important role in my professional and personal development over the last year. With CSM 2017 coming up, what advice in regards to networking would you give to students?

My first piece of advice is always go shake hands. Networking can feel really awkward and it requires a step outside your comfort zone. But if you can do it once, give yourself a pep talk and walk up to someone who you are interested in getting to know, you’ll be surprised generally at how receptive they are. And once you’ve done it once, the next time becomes easier, and then next time easier… Same with sending emails. It just takes practice but it gets easier each time. Often doing a little background research can be helpful so you know a little bit about the person, and maybe have a question prepared. That gives you a conversation starter.

3. CSM is intimidating to say the least. There are multiple socials, award ceremonies,   and other gatherings. Is there a way students should prioritize which events they go to?

The first thing I would say is, be okay with leaving your group of friends. Look at the CSM schedule and see what looks interesting. Go to that! Sometimes looking at the names of presenters can help, see who you know and who you have heard are good presenters and those can be good starting points. Look for Special Interest Group Meetings though as those are good small groups where you can really make good connections. Section business meetings sound boring, but you make a big impression as a student if you go! But prioritize what sounds most interesting to you. It may not be what is most interesting to your friends though, so that’s why I say be okay with breaking off from them. Plus, a lot of times its actually easier to network when you are by yourself or with 1-2 other people than if you’re in a larger group!

4. Speaking of intimidating, some of these events have hundreds of people attending. What are some strategies to help students network in such a large crowd? Should they know who they want to talk to before they attend?

Yes. Like I said earlier, do some research on who might be there and who you might want to meet. For example, if you’re interested in Stroke research, look up some of the researchers who are publishing articles that you’re interested in, or some of the neuro residency directors. Find out their names, you can even look up their pictures so you know they look like. Go to the event and see if you can find them. If you can find them, then just approach them. Even if they’re in a group, its okay to walk up to the group and wait for an opportunity to introduce yourself. If you can’t find them, or are nervous find someone you know like one of your professors and ask them to help you find them and to introduce you. If you don’t know who you want to meet, again use your professors or people who do know. Your professors have great networks already, so if you find them, especially if they are talking to people you don’t know and politely join their conversation. Again this is where if you go in a big group it’s going to be harder. If you go in a group its really easy to stay with your group and not meet anyone. Whereas if you’re with only a few people it’s a lot easier to encourage each other and to help each other push yourselves out of your comfort zone.

5. In regards to the conversations, should students have questions prepared or just let the conversation be more relaxed? Or is a good mixture of both the way to go?

I’ve always found having a question is helpful. It can be a good conversation starter, and help get you comfortable. It’s definitely not necessary. I’ve approached people and we’ve ended up talking about nothing related to what I thought we would or they’ve asked me a bunch of questions instead of my asking them any. Obviously you want it to be a natural conversation, you don’t want them to feel like their being interviewed, but worst case scenario is they’re really awkward and not talkative and you ask them for their business card and you can email them!

6. How important has networking been to your own personal/professional development?

Networking has been huge! I wouldn’t be involved in the APTA or have really realized how valuable our professional association is were it not for some of the networking connections I made. I wouldn’t have had the job opportunities, or research opportunities I’ve had either though. All of my jobs (in PT and previously) have actually come from connections of various forms. Even my first real job, coaching soccer camps, came from meeting and talking to the coach of my little brother’s soccer camps. I never realized it at the time but that was my first networking experience really! I’m working on applying to jobs and post-docs right now, and am finding it incredibly useful. I applied for a job and emailed a networking contact. He immediately emailed me back and said, ‘oh I know people there, want me to put in a good word for you?’ So while I don’t know the outcome yet, its situations like that that have proved its importance to me. But its not just for my benefit. It’s been really cool now to be able to help other people make connections or putting people together. That’s been incredibly rewarding and has been a way to pay it forward!

7. What events are you most looking forward to at CSM 2017?

Well the Sports Section Business Meeting and Awards Ceremony for me is a place I know I can see a lot of my friends and colleagues all in one place, so I generally look forward to it. I really enjoy the SIG meetings as well. Even though I’m not a student any more, the student assembly events are always a good time! Myself and a few student assembly board alumni and Joe Black often stop by to say hi.

8. Any last pieces of advice for students? *This can be relating to networking or really whatever you want it to be.

Networking-wise take that step to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Set a goal, maybe that you’re going to meet one new person, or get someone’s business card. And then follow-through. Maybe tell someone your goal so they can help hold you accountable. But mostly go and have a ton of fun!! CSM is exhausting, but it’s a ton of fun. So go do everything you can and want to!! You don’t have to go to every single session, obviously go to some, but if you need a brain break or a nap, go take one! The social events though are as much of the conference as the education. The events are when you can meet people, so go enjoy them. Also remember that other students will be your peers in the future, so go meet students and early careers from elsewhere because it’s not just established professionals who will help you, it’s your direct peers as well!

9. If students wanted to reach you regarding questions from this article, how should they contact you? 

Twitter: @soccerpt11