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Five Keys to Summer School Success

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During the last decade, summer schools and various specialized workshops for students have become increasingly popular among students and faculty. I have organized and advised summer schools for several years already, and my students and I have learned many important lessons. Here are five ways to improve your own summer school networking experience.

Prepare for a different, in-depth experience

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Summer school is very different from all other networking events for a very simple reason. Students in summer school are usually engaged in quite small specialized groups of classmates and faculty (often visiting prominent professors or practitioners in the field), so it’s important to be prepared not just to say “Hi,” but to be ready to hold in-depth conversations, exchanges and brainstorming.  To achieve this, don’t leave your preparation to the very last minute. Instead, read the relevant textbooks and articles well in advance, so you’re able to contribute in this intellectual setting.

A good example of the level of intensity is the international summer school at Al Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) in Almaty City: for more than two weeks the best students from China and Kazakhstan attend this session to learn about the latest technological and business innovations in the field of green economy and the future of traditional and alternative energy. In addition, they visit the pavilions and laboratories of the World Expo “Future Energy” in Astana City to gain hands-on experience with the latest scientific breakthroughs.

Get out of your comfort zone

In the highly specialized environment of the summer school, everyone is under the spotlight and all activities (and especially inactivity) become visible. You cannot get away with just preparing a two-to-three-minute elevator pitch, as you’re expected to demonstrate your presentation skills and your knowledge of the topic. In this setting, it’s virtually impossible to hide in the corner of the room. Therefore, it’s very important to focus not only on learning about the subject, but also on learning to stand up and deliver high-impact and well-prepared presentations before a group of very knowledgeable and critical specialists: your classmates.  You should be prepared to voice your opinion publicly, and at a moment’s notice.

Be ready to show your leadership skills

The former US President John F. Kennedy once said: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” and summer schools are the best place to practice leadership in a learning environment.  The organizers of summer schools usually expect students to be active throughout, and to show leadership and support to co-create a dynamic setting for active engagement, conversations and brainstorming. By themselves, the organizers can only set the stage to make these events successful, the real actors are the participants. Expect therefore not only to take an active role in the events, but also to demonstrate leadership in being creative, cheerful and inspiring, both in and out of class activities, and in helping to deal with tensions and negativities which might emerge.  

Learn about success and seek mentorship

Summer schools often provide a unique opportunity to be with highly successful business people and entrepreneurs, innovative scientists and national and international dignitaries. Many of them are very happy to share their experience and the secrets of their success with those they meet. This opportunity to learn firsthand about the realities of the business world, innovations or international management should not be missed. Don’t stand and wait around for people to approach you or just collect cards; instead, set out to create meaningful connections. You need to be ready to step forward and strike up a pleasant and intelligent conversation with just three people per event. Remember to prepare solid, intelligent questions, as nothing is more annoying than when a student asks inappropriate and badly thought-out questions.

Don’t forget to follow up

You spend two weeks with your classmates and wonderful faculty, learning so much, but don’t forget to follow up within three days and stay in touch with people. It’s not just a case of keeping a business contact, it’s a chance to continue the friendships which will have developed while you were at summer school. If you can nurture these connections and build new friendships, that’s the most powerful type of networking there is.

Lead image: Dhruv Laad (Wikimedia Commons)

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Rafis Abazov's profile image
Written by Rafis Abazov
Dr Rafis Abazov is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he also manages a joint program with Earth Institute of Columbia University (New York, USA). He has written 10 books, including The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics (2007) and has regularly contributed op-eds to The New York Times. Mr Abazov enjoys collecting rare books on British exploration of Central Asia and reading travelogues on Central Asia and the Middle East by Eugene Schuyler, Vladimir Bartold and Lord George Curzon. He has also authored photo exhibitions about his trips to Central Asian republics, Turkey and Afghanistan. Contact info: Office 1400 Rectorat, 71 Al Farabi Ave., Al Farabi KazNU, Almaty, 050040, Kazakhstan
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2 Comments

A remarkably helpful article, many good and fresh points made! I do agree: getting out of your comfort zone and learning more from various people is as important, as the actual academics.

Hope to see more such posts in the future.

How do you manage to write all these?
Great Post and I Love the Article! Great Efforts!!

Regards,
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