Networking – getting to know a friend you haven’t met yet

Written by our guest blogger Constance Boissin.

As I am approaching the last year of my PhD, I decided to sign up to an online conference entitled “The Academic Job Market” organized by “Beyond the Professoriate” organization. I don’t know what I want to do after the completion of my PhD but it’s always better to be informed. As the conference was  online I could also watch the videos on my iPad during one of my many flights scheduled for the fall.

However, I relatively quickly got a bit disappointed by the conference, or rather, realized careers in academia is a very broad topic. In our little bubble of being in a medical university we often forget that the academic world actually includes any fields from music or art history, to chemistry or biology. Therefore, most of the presenters at the conference came from a background that is so different from mine that it was hard to relate. Even more so because it was intended to North American universities, bringing an additional difference. That being said, it did put me into perspective if I want to move to the United States for a postdoc, and I did of course learn some important insights from watching all the videos.

In this blogpost, I want to share my thoughts on a presentation entitled “How to network successfully in academia (and why you need to)”, by Associate Professor Jen Heemstra in Chemistry at Emory University. When I hear about networking I always think that networking is one of the things I really should be doing, but I just dread it. Luckily Jen Hemstra admitted thinking that too when she was a graduate student. Personally, I like travelling and discovering new cultures and I love discussing with my friends.However, I must admit that coming into a space where I don’t know anyone and where I have to start a conversation is one of the things I am very scared of in life. I never know what to say in those “small talks”, and I just feel really uncomfortable with this type of relationship because I always feel very hypocritical. However, Jen Hemstra sees networking as “just getting to know a friend you haven’t met yet”, and mentioned that it can be fun! That seems like quite a long stretch for me, but maybe it could work to think that way.

Some of the general advice she gave included first to take all opportunities to meet new people, and not only those you think might be useful right now. Rather start with building new connections, and these might be useful one day. Also, if networking turns out to be transactional, whereby we ask someone for help or advice, this should be acknowledged. The person who helped you hopes that you will pay it back or pay it forward at some point in the future. This is the basis for building a healthy scientific community. Finally, she did emphasize that connecting is just opening the door, after that you have to stand on your merits. You will not get a job just because you have met someone, but rather this might help in putting your CV forward, and then your merits will speak for themselves.

After this inspirational, and somewhat scary talk, I now feel ready to try and meet new people, making this definitely one of my new year’s resolutions!

This post is written as part of a series based on the conference “The Academic Job Marget”, organized by “Beyond the Professoriate”, with access provided by KI Career Service. Read other blogs from this conference.

Banner Image by TheAndrasBarta from Pixabay

One thought on “Networking – getting to know a friend you haven’t met yet

  1. If you re reading this, there s a good chance that you re in the science business. What you might not realize is that this is also a people business, and that the relationships you build within (and outside of) the scientific community are not only essential for your career progression, but can also be fun and meaningful. When we hear the word networking, it can trigger visions of an awkward speed dating event where people are all trying to get something from each other. However, as I explained last month, transactional networking is not necessarily a bad thing, and is also a very small part of the whole picture. The majority of networking is really just about building relationships, and this month, we ll wrap up this series by taking a look at two different approaches.

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