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How to talk to a scholar one-on-one?


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I so wish there was a guidebook for this! I'm heading to a conference soon, and have an opportunity to meet with a prominent scholar in my field. While I have been in contact with the person via email over the last year, I'm still very nervous about the interaction.


Any tips for making sure I'm on my "A game" when meeting with this scholar? I'll obviously brush-up on the scholar's recent research, and be able to articulate my own, but beyond that, how do I make sure it's not just awkward silence?

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I think one thing to keep in mind is that conversations at conferences don't have to be super long and you don't want it to awkwardly drag out. And, if you just catch them in the hallway or foyer or something, they might actually be on their way to something else (of course, if this is an appointment then that doesn't apply!). So, once you've had a conversation and you sense there is a silence coming, it might be a good idea to end the conversation before it gets awkward!


But, if that's not an option, or if you don't want to end the conversation just yet -- I would prepare some questions ahead of time to ask when the conversation dies down. I think it could be a good idea to ask about upcoming research plans. For example, March 1 was the Hubble Space Telescope proposal deadline, so that might have been a good conversation starter/continuer back in February (e.g "So, are you planning on submitting a Hubble proposal?"). 


At these kind of meetings, I think it's important to talk about more than just research. Conversations are fun when the topic is something both people are interested in, right? But it can be hard to switch from talking about research to personal hobbies. At conferences, it's usually easier because you can always bring up the place you're in and what cool stuff is going in the city and that can be a nice transition from research to personal stuff. Then, maybe you'll find some topic/similar interest you share and build a stronger connection. 

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