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Made in affiliation with Birmingham Graduate School.

Networking is not a dirty word

In the discussion about how best to succeed in Academia, one skill came across very strongly. Networking.

Now, if you're like me, this word will cause the bile to rise up into your throat and your eyes to circumnavigate the skies, but it is an important skill and it can be the difference between a permanent academic position and the eternal post-doc.

I think the reason that many of us find networking such a nauseating prospect is because it feels as if it's a very selfish endeavour, and we all know that one person who is a schmoozer and we desperately do not want to be them. We feel as though we want something from the person we're 'networking' with and we have to force a conversation to get it. Well if you feel this way, then maybe consider changing how you network.

Networking is not one-sided endeavour, it is an opportunity to build a relationship with someone who will become a friend, and as such we'll help them and they'll help us. The best way to network is to try and think about how you can help someone else. What can you offer them? For example, in a recent conference I had done some similar work to someone who gave a talk, so after the talk I offered them advice for some of the concerns they had. This benefited me not at all, but later, at another conference, they remembered me and we had more conversations.

Don't worry about one particular time being your only chance to get a job and network with the right people, try instead to build long-lasting relationships. By avoiding the, oh my God this is my last major conference so I need to make sure everyone knows my name, panic you can go in with a more relaxed 'friend-making' approach. Think about it this way, if somewhere were to come up to you, what would you want to talk to them about? Would you want them to pester you about a post-doc opportunity, or would you want to have an insightful chat about your, and their, research?

This is why is it so important to give talks and present posters, these give you an 'in'. It lets someone know what your skills and abilities are without coming across as a desperate schmoozer. This can help you to come up with a plan of what to say to people too, if you're already talking about your research it can be easier in later conversations to think about what research tools you have at your disposal and how they benefit others.

Obviously, as we discussed the importance of networking in the episode about staying on in academia, it may seem critical to your career success and therefore stressful, but try to not overthink it. If you accidentally spit cake on someone, or fumble over your talk, it's not the end of the world; all the people you will speak to are human, with their own foibles, just try to step out of your comfort zone and chat to them, like you would when you're making friends. That's all this is really, making friends.

Some other useful info:

Forbes: How to Network in the Right Way

CIO: How to Network: 17 Tips for Shy People

WikiHow: Networking


I want to leave academia... but where should I go?