STEMinista’s Dinner Party Advice

Nobel Dinner2

Wow, I’ve been gone a few days – sorry about that! Did you miss me? I sure missed sharing with all of you!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook know I took a long weekend off for some family time. I have so much to catch up with on with all of you, starting with my second post about meeting Dr. Harald zur Hausen last week. More updates to come in the next few days – can’t wait to tell you all about my big weekend!


So did I mention I got to meet a Nobel scientist the other day? In the science world, Nobel Laureates are the types of people who should get baseball cards. They’re absolute rock stars for being intellectual athletes.

What I don’t think I mentioned yet is that by some great accident I got seated at a table with Dr. zur Hausen and a number of other absolutely inspiring leaders in science, medicine, and surgery at the welcome dinner the night before the talk. Let me draw you a little diagram to explain – STEM smarties love diagrams, right?

wow - look at all the incredible company I was honored to dine with!

wow – look at all the incredible company I was honored to dine with!

Do you see what I’m seeing here? I was literally sitting at a table with people who are giants in their respective fields. All but one have been doing what they do since before I was born. Literally – they’ve been doing their job longer than I’ve been alive.

I go to business dinners pretty regularly, so I’ve grown to be a little more comfortable in groups this impressive. However, no matter how many dinners I go to, I am always inspired by the people I dine with. If you’re new to dinners like this, and feeling a little intimidated, I thought I might share some of my advice with you.

Let’s start with the obvious. Be polite and mind your manners. I’m not really an etiquette expert – I’m a scientist. There are books and advice columns on that if you need advice, and parents, grandparents, and other adults are great resources. I recommend “The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success” or “Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top” (note, link will direct you to external website).
My true advice actually echos something that my grandmother used to tell me over and over and over as a child:

When you are lucky enough to be in the company of the greats in your field, or any field, shut your mouth and listen as much as you can.

Of course, it’s okay to chime in as appropriate. You should definitely ask as many questions as you can, but don’t waste a lot of time talking about yourself; Instead, spend your time listening listening listening and trying to soak up as much information, expertise, and advice as you possibly can from someone who has an entire career under their belt.

What’s cool about sitting with senior professionals? People who have been in the field for a long time typically love what they do. They’re passionate about it, and are often happy to share their experiences and insights. Most are also very excited to help the youngest generation in their field develop into leaders. They WANT to see you succeed.

Also, they really KNOW their stuff. They are like walking encyclopedias of their field. They can give you an entire history of the field over dinner, highlighting all the key people, the big findings, and the current and past key controversies. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of an opportunity to hear about all of those things? Think of the value of all the information you can get – you can go home with a full belly and a full mind!

If your dinner company works in a field that you’re interested in, they can tell you hot areas for research or jobs, they can tell you what leaders in the field look for in young professionals, and they can tell you what you can do to help break into the field.

You might also find that the conversation doesn’t revolve strictly around STEM. Perhaps it wanders through areas of hobbies, or family, or travel, or philosophy, or any other number of things.

Keep listening.  There’s more to life than STEM.

You might find a parallel to your own life. Maybe now, maybe later in your career, this information could be of use or importance to you. It could directly parallel your life, or it could help you gain a perspective on a different generation, a different culture, or a different lifestyle.

I can’t tell you all the amazing things I’ve learned from going to dinner parties, the great people I’ve met, and the wonderful connections I’ve developed.  When the opportunity comes up for you, make sure you take advantage of it, and listen, listen, listen as much as you can!

–the STEMinista

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