Learned societies and online platforms can be great ways to develop a mutually beneficial network, say panellists at the 2015 Naturejobs Career Expo in London.
Guest contributor Paul Brack
“Networking isn’t just me trying to get something from you,” said Julie Gould, editor of Naturejobs, as she opened the session on Building Scientific Communities at the 2015 London Naturejobs Careers Expo. “Networking is about building a relationship with another person that will benefit both of you.” The two invited speakers in this session, Sarah Blackford, head of Education & Public Affairs at the Society for Experimental Biology, and Jon Tennant, an Imperial College London PhD student, discussed some methods that early career scientists can use to start these types of relationships.
Learned societies, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry or the Biochemical Society, are, according to Blackford, “clubs for people with a similar interest in an academic discipline.” Early-career scientists often underestimate how useful learned societies can be in helping them advance their careers. Blackford pointed out that learned societies have quite a lot of money, and, as they’re not-for-profit, “they give that money back into the scientific community.” Learned societies do this partly by organising and subsidising events, such as conferences on topics that interest their members and giving travel grants to early-career scientists to enable them to attend external meetings.
Participating in one of these conferences is an easy way to start building your scientific community. “If you can get in the spotlight and do a talk, that’s a great way to get known,” advised Blackford. And conferences are not just about the talks: talking is also important. After all, as Blackford noted, postgraduate research “is not about being 24/7 in the lab.” She continued, “people need to know about your work, but they need to know about you as well.” Just simply chatting to people at conferences is a great way to get known.
Can social media help with your research? Tennant thinks so: “Social media is actually a very powerful gateway for communicating science and it can also enhance your academic experience.” Tennant has some evidence for this, having recently published a paper with a group of academics he’s never physically met, who found him on Twitter. Blackford agreed that Twitter is a great platform for scientists: “You’d be amazed at the jobs that get advertised there,” she said.
In order to control the content that will appear in your Twitter feed, follow only those people who post information that you consider useful. If you don’t know who to follow, Tennant suggested starting off with the learned societies closest to your discipline, and then following the people and organisations that they follow. In doing so, you begin to construct your bespoke online community. Many conferences now have dedicated hashtags and are live-tweeted by delegates, so Twitter can be a great way to follow a conference if you can’t be there in person. Indeed, Tennant went so far as to say that “you don’t even need to be there to network, because it’s all happening online.”
According to Tennant, blogging (writing short articles and posting them online) about your research is a useful way to practice your writing and to get rapid feedback on your work. Websites such as WordPress or Blogger make it very easy to start a blog. However, if you don’t feel like you can commit enough time to research and write your own blog, Tennant recommended posting a guest post on someone else’s blog first. Many learned societies host blogs and are more than happy to receive pitches (for tips on how to pitch, follow this link to SciDev) for guest posts, and the same can be said of community blogs like SciLogs, the Scientific American blog network and Naturejobs.
While tweeting and blogging can help researchers to build communities, Tennant advised against doing it just because you feel that you should. It’s important to find an avenue of communication that works for you. And it does take time to become adept at using online media tools. “Don’t expect to become amazing overnight,2 warned Tennant. He said that it took him 4 to 5 years of blogging to really start to feel comfortable with his writing.
The message of the session was that although networking or building your community can sound daunting, it really isn’t; it’s possible to start with something as simple as tweeting someone or joining a society. These little things build up and help you to form your very own scientific community.