What's the value of AIARD?

Posted: June 19, 2018

Christian Man, Ph.D. candidate in Rural Sociology and INTAD, provides perspective on attending professional development events such as the annual meeting of the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD).

A a fourth year graduate student in Rural Sociology and INTAD who now lives in Washington, D.C., I have been doing a lot of networking lately. Networking can be tough. People are busy, the development job market is tight, and translating one’s academic training into practical talking points is a craft that takes practice (a point to which I return).

A few weeks ago, I attended the 2018 annual meeting of the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development in Washington, D.C. This was my third time to attend the event. In this post, I’d like to highlight a few reasons I believe this particular conference facilitates quality networking for graduate students like me.

1. AIARD prioritizes the next generation of development professionals

AIARD has a strategic focus on graduate students, which makes networking easy. Professionals who attend the event seem to take a special interest in getting to know  student participants. I repeatedly felt this interest, even from senior executives. One individual whom I met several years ago at AIARD urged me to come to his office later this month so we could catch up. He wanted to hear about my progress in school and about my plans after graduation. He also promised to introduce me to one of his organization’s recruiters.

2. AIARD’s diversity prompts illustrations of how to talk effectively about your work

AIARD’s membership is a mixture of researchers, practitioners, thought leaders, and representatives from the donor community. Accordingly, the conference programming is diverse. This year, we heard from a poultry entrepreneur, a Bloomberg journalist, a nutritionist, a think tank director, several economists, and so on. Such diversity reflects that of the international development community writ large. It also vividly showcases the different ways development professionals think and, consequently, communicate with one another.

Not all communicators are created equal. After hearing the eloquence with which Chris Barrett, the respected agricultural economist, spoke about a livestock index insurance scheme, I realized several things. First, I need be able to explain complex issues with plain language. Second, for most audiences, stories are engaging, and equations are not. Third, good communicators aren’t perfect. They’re real. They create connections with their audiences by being relatable. These are lessons I want to integrate into my networking efforts: presenting my background in a clear, authentic, interesting way that draws people in.

3. AIARD creates space for employers to get to know you

 AIARD is full of potential future employers. During one event at the conference, I sat next to an individual for whom I would like to work. I asked her questions. She asked me questions. It wasn’t an interview, but it wasn’t not an interview. I never could have planned that conversation, but I was in the right place, and it happened to be the right time. That kind of good fortune seems like an AIARD speciality.