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By Megan Rossi APD, PhD Candidate

I was at a nutrition conference in Germany earlier this year and what started out as a light hearted conversation with a stranger during the morning tea break turned into a very profitable collaboration, including a trip to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Prior to this “enlightenment”, believe it or not, I was quite the networking sceptic. Let me share my story with you…

I have always been one to keep to myself at conferences, diligently attending every session, assuming I was making the most of the experience. However, after reading many articles praising the power of networking, I promised myself, despite my scepticism, that I would trial this approach at the next conference. 

Several months later I was off to Wurzburg in Germany to attend the International Congress on Nutrition and Metabolism in Renal Disease, still committed to trialing the “networking approach”. Admittedly, I was a little intimidated by the thought of instigating conversation with international delegates I’d never met before. However, by the end of my first day I’d warmed up to the approach and was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the conversations. Whether it was about the local town, Wurzburg, different nutrition practices across countries or even just the conference food (always a great conversation starter), I found myself emerged in each conversation. I even met one of my research idols! (and yes I did get my photo taken with him #starstrucknerd).

Over the four-day conference many conversations were had and several emails were exchanged. On my flight home I sat reflecting on the experience… yes I’d missed a few conference sessions getting caught up in conversations, and yes I wasn’t as alert as I’d normally be, having stayed out late at the evening functions, but oddly enough I felt more inspired than ever. 

After I got over the jet lag I followed up with the contacts I had made, including one of the research leaders at the internationally renowned Karolinska Institute. Not expecting anything more than some advice on my research direction, I was overwhelmed to say the least when I received an invitation to visit the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm Sweden…and best of all it was on a scholarship (big thanks to The University of Queensland GISTA initiative!).

Stockholm was a great city, small enough to get my bearings but big enough to host Sweden’s annual food festival (Taste of Stockholm- one of my most memorable food experiences to date!!). Besides indulging in the local cuisine I did manage to squeeze in some work. The Karolinska group are no strangers to collaboration, in fact, I believe part of their prestige is owing to their proficiency in collaborating. The Institutes hospitality was remarkable, they accommodated me in one of their furnished units, 5-minutes walk from the Institute. I shared the unit with two other PhD students who were also visiting the Karolinska, an Engineer from Italy and a Nephrologist from the Dominican Republic. Unit sharing was a great experience, not only did I get to try authentic meals from both cuisines but I learnt a great deal about the different cultures and have planned to reconnect when I next visit Europe. 

Having experienced the Karolinska in person, I can confirm it really is a powerhouse of brains with profound productivity.  The outcomes from my short stay included serum analysis of samples from our Australia study (yes the samples travelled with me), in addition to a publication from another study…two papers in two weeks, definitely a record for me!

On the flight home, reflecting on the trip I was overwhelmed by it’s success, activities which would have taken me over a year, if at all possible on my own, were accomplished in two weeks. I had finally realized the power of networking.