If you are one of the lucky graduate students or postdocs, you have actually been told that it is a good idea to network, or you have eventually figured it out yourself.
Fortunately, more and more Universities now have career development teams, postdoc committees and other resources available to help PhD students and postdocs with their careers. However, even if you know it is important to network, you may not exactly know how to go about it.
Networking has gotten progressively easier over the past decade, thanks to social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, and even Facebook and Twitter. You can find almost anybody on social media, and most people do not mind networking if it is done in a polite and respectful matter.
Don’t just spam LinkedIn invites to a bunch of people. Invite them to link in with you, and explain who you are and why you would like to connect. It could be someone you met at a conference, someone who works at a company you are interested in, or even just someone who is in the same field as you.
Another way to network is to join LinkedIn groups. Search through the groups that are related to your work and/or to the field you are interested in pursuing and join. Most groups are fairly active. There may be job postings, people discussing new discoveries in the field, people asking for technical advice.
A good way to get your name out there is to participate. Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to be THAT person who posts comments to everything, but if you are an active participant, people will start to take note of your name.
One of the best ways to network is through collaborations. If you are in a lab that collaborates with other researchers at other institutions, that is great!
Going to, and presenting at scientific meetings, is another great way to meet new people in your field. Again, it is important that you are an active participant. If there is somebody that you would like to talk to, find them and talk to them. Get business cards made before you go, and hand them out to people you talk to. Ask if they have one that you can have. Follow up via email after the conference, and they will remember you.
So why is networking so important in science? Networking can get you opportunities that you might not have known existed. Based on a survey of scientists, the top two answers to the question “How did you get your first job in industry” was “I was a perfect fit for the position” and “Networking.”
If a hiring manager sees two almost identical resumes, he is likely to choose the person who was recommended by a colleague or friend, over somebody he never heard about. Or maybe you really impressed him with your intelligent conversation at that conference two years ago, and now he is hiring and thought of you. Either way, you may have just beaten 100 other qualified candidates, just because you networked and the others didn’t.
So please get on LinkedIn, apply for travel grants so you can go to conferences, and most of all, talk to people. Remember, even the most famous scientists were graduate students once.