This is the second blog post on the talk at the Biomedicum Young Researchers Symposium by Gretchen Repasky. You can find the first blog post, on connecting with colleagues and building communities here and the last post on mentoring here.
Today’s topic is: Broadening career perspectives through development of personal skills and networking – if not now, when?
Gretchen uses Wikipedia’s definition of career development: The lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure, and transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving preferred future. And when she puts it this way, it is evident that this is not just something you do in one afternoon course or company mingle once a semester; career development is a long and continuous process involving many different areas. Developing your science is linked to developing your career and vice versa. Success in one can breed success in the other. A happy and motivated researcher is a productive researcher, and your success is seen as your PI’s, department’s, and institute’s success.
There are a multitude of ways to develop your career, such as courses, informal interviews counselling, blogging (hello!), networking and mentoring. So, identify your needs, write them down, be creative to fulfil your needs, make an action plan and then go bravely forth executing it! Don’t hesitate! Luckily, for those of us who feel it’s just not that easy, Gretchen had some practical advice.
Regarding the infamous elevator pitch, she advocates spending 30 seconds to catch attention. Offer a firm handshake. State your name to introduce yourself. Let the person know that you know who they are or allow them to introduce themselves. Next, you have one minute to deliver your research message, and why they should care and want to know more. End by kindly asking if it is OK for you to contact them. Practice makes perfect, so rehearse with your friends. Links to some further advice on elevator pitches.
Scientific speed-dating is another method Gretchen advocates. You set up tables or chairs, in pairs, spend 3 to 10 minutes with one person, and then rotate to the next one in line. In a one hour event, you can meet and introduce yourself to twenty researchers. The speed dating should preferably be followed by a poster session with drinks, so you can mingle and talk more with the ones that caught your interest.
Networking is a must; new contacts for collaborators, mentors, informational interviews and new leads for career opportunities can be won here. For those of us who cringe at the word networking, feel awkward and rarely enjoy mingling, Gretchen has a protocol. “Remember, everyone is in the same situation, everyone’s a stranger” she says. Everyone is looking for meaningful conversations, and good conversations happen by design, and only rarely by luck. You bring value and are unique. Then proceed like this:
To start a conversation:
- Show (or feign) confidence.
- Look approachable and have a firm handshake.
- When entering a circle, make a simple introduction to the person across the circle and next to you.
- Begin with a neutral question, preferably on the topic just discussed, otherwise on e.g. their opinion on the keynote address, the current weather, or the catering.
- Show interest and give compliments, use nametags and commonalities.
- If you are in the company of someone, offer an introduction or ask to be introduced.
During the conversation:
- Be an active listener.
- Ask questions based on responses.
- Show interest.
- Only talk about yourself if initiated by a specific question.
- Answer concisely; turn the conversation back by asking a new question.
Exit the conversation:
- Don’t be abrupt or rude!
- Abide by the 5-10 min rule.
- If you have a friend at the function, get them to whisk you away.
- Use closing statements/transitions, e.g. “I don’t want to monopolize your time and it’s been great chatting, but I should be on my way.” or ”I need to move on but will circle back to you later.”
- Suggest a future meeting.
This advice is based on a blog post by Cathy Sobara on How to start and end conversations without awkward silences. Go read, it’s much more clear than my summary above.
Some final words of advice on career development: Learning this skill takes patience and practice, Gretchen says. Plan ahead with thoughtful questions, practice your introduction and play pretend with your friends. Think about the value you bring and why you are unique. Be open and sincere, the question you want to investigate is “What can we do together?”. Finally, remember to follow up, once you have a connection.