Long story short: go to conferences. Go where people are, meet them, sneak through them, stalk them if you will. If you think the presentations will not be interesting, it doesn’t matter. Attending conferences is great because of the coffee breaks, when you have the chance to actually talk to people, making new relationships which might be useful for your job or your knowledge. Often I refused to go because the speakers looked lame to me, or the topic not interesting, but that’s not the point. Just as our job, it’s a people thing. Anyone, in any field, would confirm that. During our master program, we tend to go wherever we can and meet the more people we can, because we learn the most from teachers’ and speakers’ presence, rather than from their actual lessons or talks.
But also speaking is important. If you have the chance to give a talk, or present a paper, it’s good to take it. I had several bosses, in the past, who never wanted to present our work around because they claimed it to be useless, or not important, or they were just over-shy. But that turned out to be just a way to cut ourselves out of the world. In my last year at my former job, I managed to go to a conference to present our work, and I got so fraking excited: everybody was looking amazed at me, saying: “we had no idea you were doing this stuff: it’s a great work! Why you never told anyone about that?”.
That was a great question. Showing your work around is essential. People must know what you do. You can take suggestions and hints by doing so, you create a confrontation, you learn from others’ reactions. You also get rid of all the inferiority complexes you might have, seeing that almost everybody else is quite experiencing the same troubles as yours.
The same goes for publishing. Unfortunately I never had the chance to publish a lot of stuff, but that is mostly because I am wickedly lazy. But my principle is that everything you do in your office must be documented and possibly published, so that your work gets credit. You can do great stuff at your library, but if nobody knows then its value is diminished, and you can have a hard time when it’s time to advocate it.
(Final furball: that is also why I don’t like much those publications, which are the majority in Italy, where people just talk about stuff, concepts, principles, rather than showing what they do in their workplace – maybe because they do nothing at all. What is actually going on on the field is often not very well documented, and this is bad because it creates a vague and fictious vision of how the real thing is).