Approximately 250 experts in nutrition travelled to Tanzania for the 2015 Federation of African Nutrition Society (FANUS) conference.  Delegates from over 20 countries attended to discuss ‘Nutrition in Africa at a Crossroads’.  The overarching message throughout the week was the need for nutritionists in Africa to collaborate and systematically build capacity to address Africa’s nutrition challenges. 

Throughout the week our Nutrition Society stand was one of the busiest.  Attendees waited patiently to join us as international members, to enter our prize draw and register for our training events: effective networking for nutrition graduates and scientific writing for publication.  Both workshops were quickly fully booked with a brand new networking workshop creating a particular buzz.

It can often be difficult to network effectively, especially at the beginning of your career so the networking workshop was created and delivered by Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Chester, Basma Ellahi.  

Learning the skills to network

Whilst some people approach networking with enthusiasm and gusto, others dread every coffee break at a scientific meeting.  Love it or hate it, networking is an important part of career development and is much more than saying ‘hi’ to strangers. It is a skill.  And as with all skills, it needs to be developed. 

The workshop was lively and interactive.  Professor Ellahi opened the session by telling a packed room that ‘the only thing holding you back from networking, is you’.  To overcome this barrier, delegates were quickly encouraged to get to their feet, switching seats to meet their new neighbours.  The next exercise focused on perceived barriers to networking.  Working in pairs, delegates were asked to create a post-it note ‘wall of barriers’.  Then together, they worked through the barriers turning them into positive actions, metaphorically smashing through the imaginary wall.

Networking is a lifelong activity but often people only remember the first impression. And your handshake is key in making this first impression.  To demonstrate the importance of this, delegates were back on their feet moving round the room practising handshakes.  They met this task with great enthusiasm and jollity, but it highlighted the importance of making others feel at ease by reading body language and ensuring cultural sensitivity.

Putting theory into practise

The energy from the delegates was high and there was a collective sigh of disappointment when the session came to a close.  In fact one delegate was so ardent he asked the Nutrition Society to develop regular networking seminars.  The delegates left the workshop keen to rehearse and perfect their new skills throughout the remainder of the FANUS conference.  The day after the workshop, many of the delegates were excited to share their successful networking experience with us at the Nutrition Society stand.  Telling us how they had made new contacts, exchanged business cards and perfected their handshakes!

Scientific writing for publication

Despite being the final day of the conference, a scientific writing for publication workshop was also fully booked with unregistered delegates queuing outside for nearly 30 minutes for a chance to participate. Professor Ellahi, presenting the workshop, explained the importance of defining your writing style, writing a clear, concise abstract and selecting the best journal for your publication with a high impact factor. Delegates left the workshop energised and enthused to publish their research.

Looking forward

The conference ended on a positive note looking ahead to 2025.  Through nutritional governance, individual empowerment and collaboration, Africa aims to reduce wasting and stunting levels along with a focus on agricultural growth to improve nutritional status across the continent.