'Speed dating' for researchers

Participants prepared a two-minute pitch on their research

- April 4, 2011

(Roy Dempsey Photo)
(Roy Dempsey Photo)

How do you break the ice and get people at an event to pitch their backgrounds in a quick and entertaining way that could lead to collaborative partnerships? The Brain Repair Centre (BRC) recently answered this question with a successful speed networking meet and greet for researchers, industry partners and funders.

The BRC is a multidisciplinary collaboration linking more than 100 world-class researchers and physicians specializing in groundbreaking treatments and technologies in the field of brain repair. That’s its strength. But BRC members are spread over Dalhousie, Halifax and other locations.

“The BRC is developing a strategic plan and we wanted to create a networking event so that members of the BRC could get a chance to speak with their colleagues in the BRC and other members of the research and industry community,” says Gail Eskes, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and Medicine (Neurology) and BRC Director of Research and Education.

Finding collaborators

“The idea was to provide an opportunity to hear about ongoing research, find potential collaborators and to be a catalyst for research among the hospital-university communities both here and across Atlantic Canada.”

So the BRC’s Research and Education Committee came up with the idea of a speed networking event, where, like speed dating, attendees could meet more people, make more contacts and generate more ideas in one short time span. Attendees were divided into pairs and each person had two minutes to tell the other person about their backgrounds. Then a bell rang and everyone shifted down and two new pairs began the process.

Fifty people came. They included BRC members, researchers and trainees from several faculties at Dalhousie, hospitals, research funding agencies, the National Research Council of Canada, ACOA, Innovacorp, BioNova, students and even some venture capitalists, interested in investing in research startup companies.

One of the researchers who was pivotal in organizing the event was Shaun Boe, who joined the School of Physiotherapy in the Faculty of Health Professions in 2010 and is a BRC member.

“Researchers have a tendency to be somewhat insulated,” he says. “The plan for this BRC event was to bring people together more. Translational research is really multidisciplinary. It takes a number of specialists to do this type of research.”

As a relatively new Dalhousie and BRC member, Dr. Boe says it’s often difficult to just walk up to someone and tell them what research you are doing.

“It’s easier when you have a two-minute pitch. You realize you’ve been looking for someone to collaborate with who does a certain type of work because you don’t have that expertise. It turns out they’re in the building next to yours. I think networking is the key to jump-starting these collaborations.”

He also notes the BRC event in mid-March was patterned on one at Cornell University in the United States and on others, offered in the business community. But this was the first time it was tried at Dalhousie within the research community. It probably will not be the last.

Making connections

Evaluations showed that 100 per cent of the respondents felt the event met their expectations and that they would come to another similar event. When asked if they had made a connection that could lead to a new research collaboration, 87 per cent said “yes” and 97 per cent said the event had increased their knowledge about neuroscience research in the BRC, at Dalhousie and other organizations.

Attendees at the event were eligible for prizes to support research activities. Gordon Gubitz, Medicine (Neurology) at Dalhousie and Director, Neurovascular Clinic, Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, won a $6,000 summer studentship, which will allow him to hire a student to work on a research project.

PhD Student Florentin Wilfart of the School of Biomedical Engineering at Dalhousie, won a $2,000 student travel award to present a paper at a scientific meeting.


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