Weighing the benefits and risks of post-conference contact

On my desk, I have a pile of business cards from my trip to the 2010 Advancing Ethical Research Conference in San Diego, CA. After the conference, I thought I would be on top of things, calling and emailing each individual that I met. I planned to establish relationships between my institution’s IRB and others. However, reality hit with the holiday breaks and the general daily work of an IRB.

Last week, I noticed the business cards again and thought to myself, “it only takes a few minutes to email someone.” Now, if you are like me and have more than 30 business cards to go through, those minutes add up. Perhaps more importantly, you have no clue who some of these people are or where you met them, making things even more challenging. So like many IRB members out there, I decided to weigh the benefits and risks.

Some risks of contacting these 30 people included:

  • Receiving no response
  • Feeling fairly silly about not knowing who you are talking to

Some benefits of contacting these 30 people included:

  • Obtaining new resources
  • Understanding alternative procedures and practices
  • Sharing my own expertise

The benefits definitely outweighed the risks. So, I decided this was a feasible task and e-mailed five of my fellow attendees. The response rate was excellent. Within a matter of days, I was having calls discussing differences in our procedures, how we share the same issues and how we have each managed those concerns, what worked and what didn’t. What took me weeks to initiate ended up being a very beneficial conversation with an IRB several states away. I strongly encourage my fellow IRB colleagues to pick up the phone or write a post-conference e-mail. It’s hard, I know, especially if you’re the type to eat lunch and work at the same time! However, when I realized it took just minutes, and the benefits of reaching out were so great, I knew that it was worth it. My goal this year (is it ever too late for a New Year’s resolution?) is to continue this outreach and stay connected. That’s why the business cards are sitting on my desk, right by my computer screen, as a reminder to stay in touch.