One of the most overlooked aspects of career development by postdocs and grad students is networking. In business, effective networking is absolutely essential for developing the trust and relationships that can open up new opportunities. When you are recommended by someone whose opinion I trust, that recommendation carries far more weight than when it comes from someone I don’t know. As scientists, we often become very engrossed in our daily scientific explorations and can forget the larger picture of interacting with our colleagues to communicate our science and foster our relationships. But science is a social endeavor after all.
The key to networking is to place yourself in situations where you can find genuine opportunities to build authentic relationships. Just handing a business card to someone isn’t building a network relationship. So what can you do as a postdoc or grad student to expand your network? Here is my list of great ways to start locally and nationally or internationally.
1. Most research universities have postdoctoral and/or graduate student associations. These are great to join because you will meet your peers who will go on to their own careers eventually. In the future, those relationships can provide new opportunities for collaborations, jobs, or recommendations for funding. Also, these associations frequently put together career panel seminars where networking with the panelists provides excellent opportunities as well.
2. Most departments, when they host a seminar speaker, provide time for the speaker to have lunch with students or postdocs. Take advantage of this opportunity to meet the speaker and tell them about yourself. For me, I look forward to the student/postdoc lunches as a seminar speaker, and I do want to hear what they are doing and how they are thinking about their future.
3. Think about joining another lab’s group meeting. I encourage everyone in my lab to do this. Not so much to network, but to learn about science that is related to what they do and to see how other groups act in their group meeting setting. If you are an active participant, networking will happen naturally and genuinely.
4. Some PIs differ in this philosophy, but I encourage my students and postdocs to contact other PIs directly for a reagent they might require. This teaches them how to reach out to the larger community and provides the opportunity to talk with the PIs about similar scientific interests.
5. Definitely attend as many national and international meetings as you can. But don’t just attend, actively participate. I know how hard it is to go up to new people and introduce yourself, but poster sessions provide a convenient way to interact. Lunches and dinners also provide a way to sit down next to someone you don’t know and ask them what they do. If you go to a meeting with your PI, ask them to facilitate introductions as well. Try to meet PIs, postdocs and grad students at meetings. Afterwards, reach out to those you met to start up lines of communication about similar research interests. Meetings are often where collaborations start, and that only happens through networking.
Any other thoughts on ways to increase your professional network?