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How A Conversation at the Convention Shaped SPSP Member Asha Ganesan’s Academic Career

Feature ImageAsha Ganesan is currently a third-year doctoral student at the University of Sydney – but it wasn’t a given that she would choose to pursue her graduate studies in Australia. The trajectory of her academic career was moulded by her attendance at the 2014 SPSP Annual Convention. Asha shared with us her experience approaching Dr. Ilan Dar-Nimrod at the convention, how she made the decision to study in Australia as a result of their conversation, her perspective on studying internationally, and her networking tips for others:

In 2014, I attended the SPSP Annual Convention as a Master’s student from the University of Northern Iowa and I had initially planned to continue my graduate studies in the U.S. During the conference, one of the first people I approached was Dr. Ilan Dar-Nimrod, whose work I had been following for a while. Little did I know, that one conversation would set into motion my current academic path, as Dr. Dar-Nimrod’s 3rd year Ph.D student at the University of Sydney.

I was nervous, but Dr. Dar-Nimrod looked approachable which helped a lot. My usually strategy is to not overthink it, so I approached him before I could talk myself out of it. Dr. Dar-Nimrod himself did play a big part in making our conversation easier by asking questions about myself and my research. In a way, since my first “chat” at a major conference turned out so well, I felt more confident in talking to people over the next few days.

I am originally from Malaysia, where I did my undergraduate studies. I was already an international student during my time at the University of Northern Iowa, so studying internationally in Australia was not a major concern for me personally. One of the major concerns prior to making the move (other than funding) was my supervisory relationship with Dr. Dar-Nimrod. This concern was addressed through Skype and email conversations with Dr. Dar-Nimrod, but I think any graduate student will know you have to take a chance that your supervisor and you will have a good relationship, which in my case turned out to be a great relationship. With the added perk of Australia being close to my family in Malaysia, I happily accepted the offer at University of Sydney.  

I have had the opportunity of spending significant amounts of time in the US and Australia. The experiences have been eye-opening, thought-provoking, and educational. Funnily enough, my experience as an international student in Iowa was vastly different from that of being an international student in Sydney. Sydney is very similar to my hometown of Kuala Lumpur, so I was able to settle in quickly. In Iowa, I was threading uncharted waters, because it was my first living in an ethnically homogenous town. Observing and understanding the dynamics of such a place gave me a new appreciation for why diversity within academics is important. It has also made me appreciate the diversity in perspective that I personally can bring to discussions not just as an international student, but as someone with unique experiences. There are definitely concerns about not losing your own identity and voice while trying to adjust to a new country or culture, but as with starting any new job or moving to a new country, it’s a challenge that is equal parts exciting and daunting.

So, if you find yourself feeling nervous about networking at conferences, the best way to overcome that is to start at a smaller, regional conferences (you can’t go wrong with a good five-minute “elevator talk”). Personally, this helped in overcoming some of the anxiety in these interactions, especially by talking to undergraduate and graduate students as well as professors. These little experiences helped me to engage with people (especially professors) at bigger conferences without feeling awkward or nervous. In fact, my flight seat mate flying out of 2017 SPSP Convention in San Antonio was the SPSP President, Dr. Diane Mackie. Without the confidence built by the overwhelmingly positive interactions with various levels of academics during my two SPSP experiences, talking to Dr. Mackie would have been pretty scary (though I came to realize later that she’s a lovely person)!

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that anxiety in networking situations can be debilitating and demotivating. However, that does not mean that budding researchers have nothing to offer in these interactions. Even if interactions that don’t go the way we want it to or we don’t make as much of an impact as we expected, we come away having learnt something new about ourselves (or maybe with a new research idea). With that thought in mind, a lot of these networking interactions become interesting, helpful, and yes, even fun.


Asha Ganesan is a 3rd-year doctoral student at the University of Sydney, Australia. She earned her M.A. in social psychology from the University of Northern Iowa and completed her undergraduate psychology in Malaysia. Her research focuses on the intersection between cultural evolution, privilege, and gender. 

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