Networking Etiquette: Opening Lines to Avoid

We know.  The word ‘networking’ may be about as pleasant to a scientist as the words ‘rejected’, ‘denied’, or ‘triaged’.  For many of us, the idea of networking seems like a giant waste of time- something that’s just keeping us from setting up another experiment, reading a paper, or going home.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Particularly in today’s economy where jobs are predominantly landed through personal contacts, building relationships with colleagues in a diverse range of fields has never been more important.  However, networking can be a bit of an art, so be sure to avoid these opening lines to ensure your NETworking doesn’t turn into NOTworking…

A friend recently introduced me to a term often used in international relations that defines the topics that one must be sensitive to when engaging individuals in other cultures.  Luckily, the acronym is easily recalled, even after a couple of drinks: SPERM.  Sex, Politics, Economics, Religion and Military.  Consider each of your fellow event attendees as their own culture – it’s best to avoid SPERM topics.

Isn’t that pretty much anything we might talk about?  No, it’s anything potentially offensive that we might talk about.  Big difference. The goal of networking is really to find out a bit about the other person and try to plant the seeds for a longer term relationship.

While networking can establish connections that may ultimately help you find a job, an employee or a collaborator, it can also destroy those relationships before they get off the ground.  Here are a few lines that will guarantee you’ll make a name for yourself – not in a good way.


“I had to come over and meet you- you look just like a girl I used to stalk.”

“Sorry my hand’s wet- they’re out of towels in the men’s room.”

“Oh I guess you didn’t notice they have light beer here.”

“I’ll be honest, I’ve never met a single person I liked at one of these things.”

“Sorry I can’t shake hands, I always hold my phone in case someone more interesting calls.”

“Wow- this is the last time I have Mexican food before a networking event- if you know what I mean…”

“You wouldn’t happen to have any Viagra on you would you?”

“I couldn’t help but notice the number of bills in your wallet at the bar.  When do you think you’re leaving- and where are you parked?”

“What’s the matter? Oh, that’s your normal face?”

“This event totally reminds me of that Star Trek episode when…”

“If you’re wondering, that’s not a gun in my pocket.”

“Can I interest you in a breath mint? Actually, please- take them all.”

“I read this article that says I’m not supposed to talk about sperm, so I’m not sure what else there is to talk about.”



Practice Makes Perfect – A Live Event!

If you’re in the Boston Area, please join us for some networking practice at the Cambridge Biotech Day Event on March 31, 2011.  We’re proud sponsors of the event which will feature talks by top Proteomics and Genomics experts in addition to an Exhibit Hall and a Wine Reception.  If you can make it, we’d love to brush up on our networking skills with you!

Click here for more event and registration information.



Any other lines you’d recommend avoiding when networking?



9 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Chris B

    wrote on March 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

    The one I would add to this list is sport (call it SPERMS if you like!). I learned this at a young age bartending in London – if you are discussing anything with someone and alcohol is present, stay away from any subject where that person's opinion could be different from yours. Trust me, in the UK, footie is akin to religion.

  2. [email protected]

    wrote on March 18, 2011 at 10:35 am

    EXCELLENT point. You could have a job 99% locked up in Boston and suddenly be notified you're "not qualified" once they find out you're a Yankees fan…

    I'd imagine asking about football loyalties is part of the job application process in the UK…

  3. @MissSinBin

    wrote on March 19, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Yeah, that's one you have to watch at conferences too. My friend was angrily confronted at a Gordon Conference poster session at (rival team city) because her purse had our hockey team's logo on it. She had a heck of a time getting away from the person without making a big scene.

  4. Jack H. Pincus

    wrote on March 18, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Here's a science-related one to add, "The experimments in your last paper were so elegant I couldn't reproduce them". :-)

  5. [email protected]

    wrote on March 18, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Hahaha- unfortunately, I've definitely known a few "very elegant" scientists over the years…

  6. amy

    wrote on March 18, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Yeah, I've lost a friend over a Yankees vs. Red Sox divide by making a harmless joke after a night of beverages…she took it quite seriously apparently, and did not find it harmless. You can talk SPERMS after you get past the initials, but even then you need to keep it reigned in.

    One thing I would avoid is stereotyping. It's easy to do, but very hard to recover from. The wife of the couple you just met may be the scientist, actually (or maybe they both are). Don't assume she's just the date.

    I also wouldn't talk about 'real science', a.k.a. what you do, versus other fields and specific niches that don't interest you. That person may be very interested in treating baldness in hamsters and have devoted their life to it. Something from their work that they find could be a pivotal key to something in your line of the biz. You never know…

  7. Natalie Sashkin Goldberg

    wrote on March 18, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    uh… well, i've never verbally referenced Star Trek at a scientific event, but i've definitely made comparisons internally …

  8. NMF

    wrote on March 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I likes the SPERMS… wait that didn't come out right… no, that's not what I meant!

    Seriously, good advice, and the openers you list should definitely be avoided. In addition to listing what not to talk about I think a lot of folks could use some help knowing what they can say, and how to say it. Also knowing the limits of networking when you're job hunting would be useful (don't want to look desperate!)

    That said, no matter how many articles I read, or books I buy I still can't stand networking. I can force my way through it, but I HATE it. Maybe part of it is never having a really good thing come of it. Maybe it's like science- 99% of the time it doesn't work but that one time things go right is such a rush and makes it worth it. Maybe?

  9. Chris B

    wrote on March 21, 2011 at 11:42 am


    I would say in response that you also need to consider your own expectations, and the venue where you are networking. From my own experience, I used to work in one specific niche of neuroscience, and there are two types of meetings there-

    15,000-person Society for Neuroscience meetings, where the networking is awful unless your data makes you into the new cool shiny penny on the floor that everyone wants to pick up,

    or the 300-person meetings that are more specific to your own area, where almost everyone is interested in talking to you about your stuff, their stuff, everyone's stuff.

    The mentality, and hence, the networking potential, is different at each.

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