It's easier said than done for most scientists ... even the word "networking" makes some shudder with trepidation. "What am I going to say? How am I even going to meet these people?"

Luckily, books (and Next Wave columns) have been written to help with the first question. The second question is tougher to answer, because everyone's situation varies so greatly. But we can offer a suggestion for biologists in Northern California. The Northern California Pharmaceutical Discussion Group (NCPDG) runs monthly evening sessions (dinner included) centered on a single presentation by a speaker from industry. Meetings tend be scheduled for the third Wednesday of each month.

Sometimes it's corporate strategy; sometimes it's a scientist talking about the commercial applications and implications of his or her work. But the main point is: this isn't the equivalent of a cocktail party, where you have to be quick and witty on any number of unknown subjects. If you do find yourself tongue-tied at the Discussion Group, you can at least talk to your table companions about the upcoming presentation. And you won't be expected to be an expert on the topic at hand.

The Discussion Group, say postdocs who have attended, tends to be casual (meaning khakis and clean jeans, no holes). Other than the science, which might be eye-opening for someone with no previous exposure to industry, presentations have also covered intellectual property and commercialization issues. Don't be scared off by the bland-sounding name of the group; our friends claim that they've had some pretty interesting conversations at the two presentations they attended.

The NCDPG Web page describes each monthly topic and speaker in advance, in addition to maintaining a list of upcoming speakers (and their corporate affiliations). An online archive of previous meeting announcements is also available.

How much will entrance to the Discussion Group cost? $20 if you're a student with ID, $40 if you're not. ($17 and $35, respectively, if you preregister). And remember, you're there to have some fun and meet new people.... See you in Millbrae.