Networking in Academia: a How-To Guide
Networking is a concept which is somewhat alien to many academics – you may well have heard how important it is to create an interactive network with other researchers in your field, but it's hard to know how to get started. Some people have a negative view of networking; thinking that it involves being deceptive or finding a way to turn every conversation around to yourself. But it needn't be that way! Successful networking is all about putting you in touch with other like-minded academics or professionals with whom you share interests. These networks help you both by supplying information (for example, finding someone with an expertise in a statistical technique which you are interested in using) and by providing you with a way to share your research (for example, sending your recent publications to other researchers who could find it useful). Networking can be a fun and rewarding way to build up your profile within your discipline.
Networking in person: At conferences and events
The key to successful networking is the concept of reciprocity – that you and the person with whom you are connecting could be beneficial for each other's work. You shouldn't try just to impress the other person with your brilliance, or to hound them for favours or insights – rather, you need to achieve balance between the help that you can offer to each other. So if you're talking to someone at a conference, do ask questions about their work and their results, and do also offer relevant insights from your own work if you can. Remember that the person you are talking to also wants to cultivate a broad network, and they are likely to be as interested in your research as you are in theirs.
Many academics like to practise a brief “elevator pitch” of their research for use in networking situations. This one minute summation of yourself and your topic should be presented in a way that would be comprehensible to someone who was not an expert in your field. You should be able to convey what is interesting and unique about you and your research in a succinct way, so practise this for when someone asks about your work.
Online networking: Twitter and Facebook
One of the most popular methods of networking, particularly among young academics, is through the use of online social networks. Websites such as Twitter or Facebook allow you to share text, pictures, links and other content. Twitter is a popular choice of microblogging platform among academics who want to share research with each other and the public. All of the short form text entries are public, so you can quickly built up networks of experts to follow in your topic from all over the world. Following these expert users, retweeting interesting content, and tweeting to promote your own research are all ways to boost your online profile.
Facebook tends to be used more personally, for connecting with friends and casual social acquaintances. But that doesn't mean you can't use it professionally too – make sure that your education and work information is up to date, and be sure to set any questionable content to be viewable only to private groups. Your potential co-workers don't need to see you enjoying a wild Friday night! If you've done this, you can use Facebook to connect with other people in you geographic area, and there are strong communities for each university or college which may be useful for you.
Other networking opportunities: Seminars, lab meetings, journal clubs & summer schools
Don't forget that networking doesn't just mean meeting famous and senior members of your field. It's also important to build up relations with your peers, to help you form new ideas, for feedback on your research, and for social support. Events like seminars, lab meetings, journal clubs and summer schools are opportunities for you to get to know new people and hear about their work as it happens. Offer to present at and organise these events and you'll have even more chances to get in contact with attendees.
Once you've met someone whose work you're interested in, be sure to stay in touch. An email after a conference telling someone that you enjoyed meeting them, or a note of thanks to a seminar organizer, for example, will go a long way to help people remember you. Then you can be sure that next time you need advice, help or information, you have a large network of people you can turn to for help.