Attending TEMC 2019 in Adelaide

On becoming ‘The Networking Guy’

The tale best begins with a story: A group of PhD students are chatting about their future. One member of the group looks to the others and says, “I’ve got a job”. Some of the others – slightly surprised at this because they’re further through their PhDs – respond with “How?”. The reply is swift and effective, “I applied!” But onto networking, there’s little point or benefit to it, right?

Andrew Unwin
Department Manager
Durham University

Having had a couple of opportunities to travel with work, I’ve long wanted to go on an AUA study tour but the timing hasn’t worked out just yet. I had applied to represent the AUA at another conference but my application was unsuccessful. But failure isn’t – and wasn’t – the end but an opportunity for feedback. I also made best use of some opportunities at AUA2019, making new contacts with colleagues from RMIT in Australia who helped with and strengthened my application for TEMC2019. I also got feedback from academic colleagues – drawing on the knowledge and guidance of those who regularly apply for funding – and some suggested that I could visit their institution too as part of my trip if successful in winning the TEMC place.

So there’s no point to networking, it was only starting to improve my application and also the quality of the potential visit.

My plan was to travel to Adelaide via Perth and visit UWA (University of Western Australia) for meetings with departmental and central staff. This would be a reciprocal exchange – I was keen to learn about their challenges but others were interested to hear about our approaches to certain activities in the UK. After Perth, I would travel to Adelaide for the conference where I had offered to deliver a session – What good ever comes from networking: from serendipity to Australia. After the conference, I would travel to Melbourne to deepen my connections with colleagues from RMIT and other institutions (Monash, University of Melbourne) with whom I had departmental (chemistry) connections.

I was delighted and honoured to be selected… even if the email did start with “Thank you for your interest in this opportunity…” which made me doubtful of the outcome. Ahead of the conference, I was added to the delegate mailing list and we were invited to volunteer to chair the working sessions. I wasn’t sure if this was ‘my place’ as an international representative, but suggested they contact me if they needed additional volunteers… And so, a week later, I received a request to chair a working session. However, this worked out really well, as one of the sessions needing a chair had been one I was already planning on attending!

On arrival in Perth (from Newcastle via Heathrow) I was immediately met with a cultural similarity – a bus driver who didn’t like the large denomination note I tried to use for my fare. Thankfully someone took pity on the weary traveller and helped me out.

While countering jet lag I took up one of the recommendations I’d had about places to visit in Perth… and enjoyed the sun setting into the Indian Ocean.

During my visit to UWA I was given a tour around the campus and got to see some of their marvellous buildings and facilities.

Similar to the AUA annual conference, TEMC is a large event with a full programme (there were 917 registered delegates!) and this year it was held at the Adelaide Conference Centre.

The newcomers and welcome reception took place on the Sunday evening (with the welcoming addresses all highlighting the importance of networking at TEMC) followed by three packed days of activities from Monday to Wednesday – including ten working sessions with eight parallel streams! Both organisations who contribute to TEMC – namely ATEM and TEFMA – hold an Awards Dinner on the Monday evening and ATEM kindly invited me to their event (and placed me on the table with board members and keynote speakers – another fabulous opportunity)… something for us to consider back here to more explicitly celebrate excellence; the Gala Dinner then concludes the conference, taking place on the Wednesday evening… this means there are plenty of opportunities to meet people with common interests and then have time to explore these further over coffee breaks or mealtimes or in the hotel lobby… an invitation to a networking event from one of the exhibitors on the Tuesday evening – from the colleague chairing my presentation – gave me an opportunity to meet even more people.

My highlights/learning points were:

  • The shared AUA-TEMC ethos!
  • Catching up with former colleagues who now work in Australia, including the Parliamentary Librarian in Adelaide, which lead to a tour of the library for me and some TEMC delegates
  • Meeting up with the husband of a friend of my wife (who I’d not met before but who –through the wonders of social media – had supported me through my part-time MA, and I through his) and finding out he worked for the company who does the survey on graduate outcomes discussed days before at the Universities Australia keynote
  • Welcome to Country and reflections on Aboriginal culture
  • Thought-provoking panel session with some Vice Chancellors
  • Talks from Universities Australia (cf UUK)
  • Keynotes from Mars 1 members; Simon Griffiths (Who gives a crap) and Jane Cano (Learning from failure; 8 simple rules for success)
  • Sometimes it might feel like you’re working very hard and not making any progress but in the end you may find that while you were standing still others were falling behind – from the keynote by Jamie Fitzgerald
J. Fitzgerald
  • Meeting a triple-gold medal winning Paralympian (also a keynote speaker), and learning about the mental and physical challenges faced by successful elite athletes
  • It’s not the situation that defines you, but how you react and learn from it (Situation, Effect, Action, Learning)
  • Talking with colleagues from New Zealand who instead of responding to a leader’s acknowledgements of their contributions would respond with a waiata (song)
  • Getting to visit the Monash building that I’d attended a working session on while visiting chemistry colleagues in Melbourne
  • The opportunity to meet and network with people, and the benefit of being able to say ‘I’m the AUA delegate; yes, I’ve come from the UK to attend this event’; being greeted as ‘the networking guy’ at the gala dinner confirmed my presentation had gone well!
Bio Super Lab

Some things we might want to consider:

  • The benefits of involving a professional conference organising company
  • Using a professional TV compere to introduce/act as MC for the keynotes and plenary
  • Using conference ‘interns’ as hosts, guides and session support

Since returning I have to say I’ve followed most of my own conference advice – I’ve written follow-up emails to a number of people I met (but must get in touch with some others)… there’s still plenty of learning to take place though and reflection: the slides from conference sessions have been released and I intend to go through those alongside my notes

To finish I want to thank some people: colleagues (Durham Chemistry, TEMC delegates, ATEM, AUA; new contacts and friends), and my wife and children… (bringing back some Penfolds wine and Haigh’s chocolates another wise decision I made…)

Of course one reason for the delay in sharing this account is returning to the work world post-conference… but the main one is the almost insurmountable challenge of selecting from the many highlights…

This was a fantastic opportunity and one that wouldn’t have been possible without AUA support. I’d thoroughly encourage anyone who’s considering applying to do so – by all means get in touch with me to discuss your application or talk to me a future AUA event. I did learn something else from TEMC2019: I invited people who came to my session to talk with me at the conference… but I now realise I should have added ‘and please say that you were at my session’. So, do talk to me about AUA conference opportunities, but please mention you’ve read this blog post too! I’ll be doing some more feedback this year, presenting at AUA2020, where I’ll be delivering my session on networking, enriched with stories from Australia and focused on collaboration for success!

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