PhD networking is an essential skill.
You will gain valuable contact with people in your industry who could help you in your PhD and after. In this article, I have selected some tips on how to network and why these skills could be useful in the future.
Attending networking events could help you to expand your academic and professional network. You will have the opportunity to get to know other doctoral students, researchers and industry professionals from a wide range of geographical, cultural, and academic backgrounds. Throughout your doctoral studies, you will be able to take part in conferences and possibly create collaborations with other researchers. As a doctoral student, you could gain access to an international network of alumni working in academia. Some of the best universities have research communities with visiting experts and high-level institutional stakeholders from around the world.
What is not networking?
Some people assume that handing out business cards at events is networking. Others like to go to events without any objectives and spend their time chatting about irrelevant topics. Some students attend workshops and seminars however they never talk to anybody. Networking requires work. It is best to set an intention before participating in any events e.g. who you are looking to speak with. The more you prepare in advance, the more confident you might be when introducing yourself to others. The more you can improve your interpersonal skills, the more you will succeed at networking.
How to prepare?
You might want to think about the below before the event:
- How to dress: Smart casual would work well for most events. It is important that you feel comfortable in the clothes you wear.
- Your objective: You need to become clear on what you want to achieve by attending networking events. Are you looking to build your connections and meet other researchers? Would you like to be better informed of trends and developments in your research field? Would you like to enhance your professional profile? Do you want to develop credibility? Are you planning to take up a job in an industry and learn about job prospects?
- Who would you like to speak with? Event organisers may sometimes send out a participants’ list before events. You could use this list to look up people’s profiles and identify individuals who might be helpful to speak with. Make sure that you do not just network with other doctoral students.
Develop a strategy
If you are new to networking, it could be useful to set some objectives before the event. For example, you might decide that you want to introduce yourself to 10 people at each event. You might want to commit to attending one face-to-face event on a weekly or fortnightly basis. You could develop a list of events to attend in the next few weeks. If you would like to do online networking, you could set out to spend 1 or 2 hours each week developing contacts via online platforms.
It is a good idea to explore what might hold you back. Do you lack confidence? Are you concerned that you may not be able to find the right words to introduce yourself? Do you worry that you might not be able to ask the right questions? You could explore these challenges in advance and find a solution. If you are worried about introducing yourself, you could create a simple 1-minute introduction (also called an elevator pitch) in advance and practice it before the networking event. If you are concerned about not being able to ask the right questions, you could brainstorm a list of questions in advance.
Where can I network?
You can network at conferences, workshops, seminars, courses, industry events and of course via social media. LinkedIn, one of the largest social networking sites, is designed for individuals to make meaningful connections. If you have never really dipped your toe into the area of professional networking, LinkedIn could be a great place to start. Depending on your career aspirations., you could find research and educational conferences helpful. At these events, you could meet other scholars, learn about their research fields, and create collaborations with academics from all over the world.
You could also attend industry events and meet people who could help you find a position in the industry.
If you commit to just one networking activity each week, you could significantly develop your network. Mark, a current PhD student, scheduled one networking event a week for six months. He decided that he would attend some local face-to-face events, and each week he would approach at least 10 people to make introductions. Although Mark had a busy academic schedule, he was keen to grow his network of industry professionals. After each event, he would also connect with the people on LinkedIn and at times also initiated a coffee meeting to continue the conversation. As a result, Mark has significantly expanded his network, learnt about job openings, received invitations to some exclusive industry conferences and established some collaborations to help him with his research.
You must listen carefully to others and think about ways you could help them. Do you know anybody who might be a helpful contact for them? Can you think of any resources (e.g. books) which might be of interest to them? Can you think of any events that they would find helpful to attend?
Do I need to follow up?
Absolutely! You might find it helpful to open a LinkedIn profile if you have not got one. LinkedIn will enable you to look up other people’s profiles, to connect with them, and to join groups. If you have had a helpful conversation with somebody, do make sure that you follow up with them after the event and ask if they would like to speak again over a cup of coffee.
Networking is a skill which everyone can learn. If you follow the above guidance, you could put yourself ahead of the competition and get the position of your choice.