By Heidi S. Douglas, firstname.lastname@example.org
A ‘Stephen Hawking Moment’ – that’s what my longtime friend, über technical sales executive and UConn alumnus with bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and business called it. It could be material for a recurring nightmare, right up there with forgetting to study for an exam and showing up for class naked. You walk into a room filled with strangers and an expectation that you are going to meet, talk, ask questions and exchange business cards. All that you can feel is sweaty palms, acid reflux and self-consciousness that everyone is pointing at you and snickering, or that they don’t notice you at all, or both. Eventually, time passes; you get older, more experienced, gain confidence and, probably most importantly, come to terms with the realization that the situation is, and will probably forever remain, simply awkward. Regardless of how advanced or developed your schmoozing skills become, walking into a room filled with strangers will never feel great – a glass or two of wine may help, but that’s a whole other story. The fact is that you just get used to it.
And who teaches us these skills that are arguably more important to our long term professional success than finite element analysis or thermodynamics? Engineering curriculum is already jam packed with courses required for graduation. I don’t know about you, but pretty much the extent of the instruction that I received for dealing with these situations was dress appropriately, stand up straight, smile and make eye contact, firm handshake … and then, you’re on your own.
Okay, back to the Stephen Hawking Moment. My friend was invited to a small, exclusive reception for Stephen Hawking preceding a guest lecture he was giving. Pitiful, he declared in recounting the scene. Encircled by a phalanx of speechless guests, Professor Hawking, seated in his wheel chair, looked absolutely miserable. What could you say? What do you ask him? So, Dr. Hawking, what’s new? How’s that unification of the General Relativity with Quantum Theory going for you? Have you seen any good movies lately? How about Man United – what a season! No one knew what to say or ask, so they just stood there staring, not saying a word. It was a Stephen Hawking Moment.
You don’t need Stephen Hawking to have the moment. For the 99% (shameless reference), until you build your personal introductory phrase list and develop some devices for initiating stranger conversation, it can be very quiet, uncomfortable, and certainly, unproductive. The only way to learn networking skills, like anything else in life, is to practice. Fake it ‘til you make it.
On November 10th, thanks to the generosity of Goodrich Corporation and foresight of the Undergraduate Office, all undergraduate engineering students have the opportunity to learn and practice. A one hour professional networking skills lecture at 4 pm will be followed by a catered reception from 5-7 pm. If you are a business or engineering professional, please, please join us. We need you. You might meet some interesting people or old friends; heck, bring them along, and our students need to practice networking with you. Oh, and if you bring a pocket protector, I’ll buy you a beer.
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