Networking is a term that many academics shy away from. It can often fill researchers with a sense of dread at the thought of talking to a room full of strangers. Think about what the term “networking” means to you. Do you see it as an opportunity? Is it just about staying up late after the conference dinner chatting? Networking is about relationship building. Often researchers need a shift in mindset to view it as a mutually beneficial conversation – and, of course, they need the time and practice to do it well.
As with most skills, networking ability varies. Some researchers may find it easy to strike up conversations with those they don’t know; for others, this can be a struggle. Also like most skills, the more you do it, the better you will become. Practice is necessary in order to improve. So, take the opportunity to present your work in any forum that you can, to expand your network’s reach. Attend conferences, present posters and give talks and opinion pieces – in short, make the most of your writing and showcase your best work to facilitate connections.
Remember that networking can happen anywhere, not just in work settings. Even social occasions can result in mutually beneficial connections being established. These often start through introductions and asking what the other person does for a job. Be friendly and open with everyone you meet. You never know what direction the conversation may take.
Tips for face-to-face networking
Don’t make snap decisions and rule out certain individuals as not useful. Instead, treat everyone you meet as a potential connection and be open-minded.
The best networking conversations are those that lead to a benefit for both parties, so remember it’s not about who collects the biggest handful of business cards. It’s about taking the time to follow up with individuals after an event and establishing a channel of communication.
Be clear about what you are looking for and what you have to offer. Have your business cards at the ready.
Tips for online networking
Make sure that you have an optimal online presence. For example, if a potential contact were to put your name into Google, do you know what comes up? Does it create the impression that you want to give? It is advisable to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date but also remember to think about the whole package presented. Build relationships online, follow individuals on Twitter, join online communities and make sure to comment and interact. This will go some way to demonstrating that you are an active member of the research community.
Online conferences and events often bring more flexibility, so the time you dedicate to networking can be more focused than it would be if you were attending an in-person event.
Look out for interesting groups, professional bodies and societies to join in order to increase your reach.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and volunteer your opinion. Online networking can be challenging to navigate, especially with the added challenge of people sometimes speaking over one another or awkward silences while waiting for others to speak. Sometimes it’s best to speak up and break that silence.
Top networking tips
- Before attending any event, research who will be in attendance (to the best of your ability).
- Remember that networking is a two-way process. You need to be clear about what you can offer, so put some thought into your unique selling points.
- Be realistic. Not every conversation will lead to great results.
- Ask colleagues to make introductions to contacts in their own networks who you might benefit from.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and do ask colleagues and those you’ve worked with to give you recommendations.
- Boost your social media presence – use online platforms and be visible through commenting on articles and opinion pieces, for example.
Consistency is key
When it comes to networking, remember that you are in this for the long haul. Networking done well is a gradual process that evolves over time; it takes consistent effort and attendance at different types of events. The more consistent you can be, the more success you will have at developing a wide- and far-reaching network. Remember that those with more experience can be great sources of advice. If possible, attend conferences and events with senior colleagues to get an insight into how they network in action.
Eleanor Hennige is the research staff careers consultant in the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh.
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