How do you talk to famous faculty? What approaches should a student use? What do famous faculty not want someone to do? What is the best way to network at a conference with senior faculty as a student?
First, remember that senior-level researchers all were once junior people just like you, and most of us remember the “jitters” that one can get when thinking about approaching a senior researcher.
Second, clarify to yourself then to the other person why you want to speak with this “famous person”. For example, do you want to ask a question, or ask for an extended time (e.g., 20 minutes) with this person sometime later. It often helps to have a specific question in mind when you approach such a person, which will focus the conversation and signal to the senior person that you are respectful of his/her time.
Third, as you approach enjoy a prolonged exhale!
Fourth, be polite and sensitive to the person’s time and the current context that you are in. (For instance, attempting to talk with a person as they’re preparing to go up and deliver a talk is likely not the best time to do so!).
Fifth, it can help to have one of your more senior colleagues or someone who specifically knows that person to introduce you to the ‘famous faculty’ either beforehand by email or in that moment.
Finally, if a senior person responds to you in a way that seems to be brusque or dismissive, consider the following: It’s likely Not You. More likely options include: 1) Perhaps the timing of your approach was not the best for that person; 2) perhaps the person is having a bad day; 3) perhaps this is a person who is not very approachable!
I thank Abby King for contributing to this response.
-- William J.Sieber, PhD