Would you like to start networking again but are not sure where to start? Whether you are a PhD student, an early career researcher, or starting out as an academic, networking could offer you a range of benefits. In this article, I have picked some guidance to help you start face-to-face networking and enhance your career prospects.
Attending networking events could keep you informed of key developments in your field. You would have the opportunity to introduce yourself to other scholars, tell them about your work, and forge collaborations across borders. You might hear about new job openings and funding opportunities. You may receive invitations to other academic events.
You may not realise that you are already doing a significant amount of networking. Informal networking can include having a coffee meeting with your peers, going for a departmental lunch with new colleagues, or taking part in a social event at the university. These could all provide you with the opportunity to introduce yourself to other academics and develop professional relationships with them.
This type of networking is more focused. Formal networking could involve attending conferences and structured networking events. You could attend networking events for business professionals if this is your area of interest. When you attend formal events, you might want to decide in advance what your objective would be for attending the event. Who would you like to introduce yourself to? Who might be helpful to collaborate with?
If you have never really taken part in formal networking, it might be slightly challenging at first. You might struggle to introduce yourself coherently or you might not be sure what questions to ask. You might be concerned that you would run out of things to say or that you would know not how to leave the conversation and talk to others.
Preparation could help you to build your networking confidence. Think about how you can introduce yourself in one minute and practice this in advance of the event. Make sure that you dress in a style suitable for the occasion (most often smart casual). You could think about 3 or 4 questions to ask others e.g. where do you work, where are you based, how did you hear about the event, and what do you enjoy most about your work? Preparation could involve setting goals. You might find it helpful to decide how many people you would introduce yourself to at the event (e.g.: 10 or 15 people).
Being able to circulate is a key networking skill. You may have spent a few minutes talking to an attendee however it is now time to talk to others. The best strategy is to be polite and ask people if they would like to join you. You could say:
‘I really enjoyed chatting with you. I would like to introduce myself to others as well. Would you like to join me?’
International conferences generally include keynote speeches, discussions, workshops, and networking. Before attending these events, you might find it helpful to take part in some networking locally in order to practice your networking skills.
In an international environment, you would meet scholars who come from a wide range of geographical, cultural, professional, and educational backgrounds. When introducing yourself to others, you should articulate well and speak clearly so that others can understand you easily. There are a wide range of conferences which might find helpful:
- The Academic Conferences International
- The International Academic Forum
- The Academic Conference Network
- International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
- World Education Research Association
- International Technology, Education and Development Conference
- Consortium of Higher Education Researchers
How to access support
A carefully chosen event can provide access to the latest research in your field. You would be able to meet academics who might become collaborators or a reviewer of grant applications.
As the first step, you could explore events related to what research you are doing and which conferences you would like to take part in. You would need to closely meet the funders’ objectives in order for your application to be successful. You could speak with your supervisor and your colleagues and ask them which conferences would be most useful for you to attend. If you belong to a professional society, you could also look at whether they offer grants for attending international events.
In addition, you could look at the websites of research centres, academic institutions, and NGOs.
Make sure that you carefully review the eligibility criteria for each grant. Some providers give travel grants for international students and others may have specific geographical or academic requirements. The grant application process tends to be competitive so you would need to devote sufficient time for submitting high-quality applications.
Practice, practice, and practice. Networking is a skill that everyone can master. Prior to attending large international conferences, do attend some smaller local events.
Do support others. When you meet a new person, do ask yourself: Can I introduce this person to others? Would they benefit from some information that I could share with them?
Remember that others may struggle to tune into your accent. Do speak slowly and clearly and avoid unnecessary jargon.
Listen carefully. To start a conversation, do ask open questions (as opposed to closed ones) and listen carefully to others’ responses. Make sure that you do not interrupt others and show respect.
Research the best conferences. In addition to carrying out some online research, do talk to your colleagues, other postgraduate students, and your supervisor, and ask them about the best events they would suggest.
Forget perfection. You may not realise but many people find networking a slightly uncomfortable experience. Do continuously develop your networking skills however do not aim for perfection.
Follow up. After the event, you may wish to connect with your new contacts via LinkedIn.
Further your networking skills: