Hobnobbing for Fun and Funding at Holiday Parties

Dec. 7, 2015

If the prospect of all the holiday social obligations fills you with unmitigated delight, you can stop reading this article now. Go ahead and click on another article.

Now that it is just those of us who feel at least some measure of anxiety anticipating social events we can discuss the topic at hand – holiday parties.

If departmental parties give you anxiety, try not to think of them as parties; consider them part of your professional development. Department parties are not PARTIES. They are DEPARTMENT parties. They provide a time for your professors and your colleagues to get to know one another outside of the classroom, lab, and office. They provide the fodder for letters of recommendation and the groundwork for future collaborations.

Here are some tips to help make the gatherings fun and to take advantage of the upcoming professional development opportunities.

Of course, you are likely already aware of the tips below. But if you would like to review them at this socially busy time of year, read on!

  1. Prepare:

    • RSVP. Your host will appreciate it.

    • Wear something appropriately nice. It is Tucson and you are a grad student. But at least put on your nice jeans and a nice shirt; you will feel more professional than if you wear a sweatshirt.

    • If it is a potluck, bring something delicious. Others will appreciate it and you will feel good about your contribution. If you are too busy to cook, pick up something nice at a supermarket or restaurant.

    • Review the names/photographs of the people who will attend the party.

    • Reflect on whom you would like to talk to. Set a goal to talk to three to four new people. If there is a professor or fellow grad student whom you would like to meet, make a note of it. If you have had a misunderstanding or tiff with someone, think about using this opportunity to make a connection with that person.

    • Consider some topics that you might discuss with the people at the party. Asking about what the person will do over the break or what he or she plans to do in 2016 are easy ways to get started.

    • Prepare for questions that you do not want to answer. If you are worried about someone asking about how the dissertation is going or what post-graduation plans, be assured that you do not really need to answer the question. In all likelihood, the inquirer does not truly want the answer to the question as much as to make a connection with you. For example, if you do not want to talk about what you will do after graduation, you can always say something like, “Well, I’m not entirely sure what I will do, but if I’m hoping I will be able to travel a bit before I begin the next chapter of my life. Have you traveled this year?”

  2. Getting Started:

    • Arrive early and offer to help. One way to feel more at ease is to (appropriately) pretend that you are a host.

    • Offer a handshake or a hug. Yes, here we are at the age old dilemma of a handshake or hug. What is appropriate? Tucson is a relatively casual and huggy place. But when in doubt, I usually go for a handshake because a handshake can become a hug but it is more awkward for a hug to become a handshake. But if you like to hug, hug away!

    • Begin a conversation with something you have in common. The food or the weather are easy places to start.

    • Try to talk to people with whom you do not interact regularly.

    • Take note of people who seem less comfortable than you are and bring them into the conversation.

    • Introduce people to one another and give them a little tidbit of information to get the conversation started. For example, “Juan Luis, this is Susan. She’s the only person I know who has built sandcastles professionally.” Or, “Susan, this is Juan Luis, he was a reviewer for GPSC travel grants last semester. Weren’t you interested in applying for those?”

  3. Keep the conversation going:

    • Listen. Really listen and try to learn something new. Look people in the eyes and ignore your phone.

    • Ask about funding. Money is usually taboo at holiday parties, but if you approach the subject appropriately, no one will be offended. You might want to ask about sources of funding or their best tips for applying.

    • If the conversation lags, tell a nice anecdote about someone else in the room. Or bring up a movie. Mentioning a movie or a restaurant almost always gets the conversation going.

    • If you find yourselves caught in a cycle of complaining or grumbling about a topic like the lack of funding, try to turn the conversation to possible solutions or options. You might be able to help one another.

  4. Close the conversation:

    • Try to talk with several people throughout the party.

    • Exit the conversation graciously. For example, you can thank them for a bit of advice they gave or for sharing their insight on a topic and then, say that you want to talk with Dr. Floyd before you leave. Or say that you don’t want to monopolize their time and move on to the snack table where you can help yourself to that delicious snack that you brought. But don’t lurk there! Move on to chat with another person.

Obtaining funding is about having a strong project, finding the funders who are interested in the project, and then crafting a solid proposal. However, it also might help to relax a bit, go to a social gathering, and enjoy yourself.

Happy Holidays to everyone!


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