Networking may seem terrifying, but once you master the basics, it can be a real career boost
Naturejobs journalism competition winner Andy Tay
Networking during academic events such as conferences and seminars can be nerve-wrecking. Most of us can remember when we pretended to be engrossed in a programme booklet, wishing we could finally muster the courage to speak to the speaker with ground-breaking research standing ten feet away. You’re not alone, and there is a solution. Effective networking is a skill and anyone can benefit from more practice.
Do your homework
It’s a good habit to read the abstracts of presenters and download their papers to learn more about them before you join a conference. If you’re interested in their work, look up their profiles on platforms like Google Scholar, PudMed and ResearchGate. These platforms automatically update publications and can be better sources of information than many lab webpages, which are less regularly updated. By being diligent, and finding out more about the presenters and their research, you’ll be more confident and ready to ask critical, intelligent questions.
Tap others’ connections
Unfortunately, even with sufficient preparation, sometimes the person you’ll want to speak to the most might be everyone else’s most popular target as well. At this point, you may wish that graduate school had kungfu on the curriculum to make your way through. Be resourceful. You want to tap on the networks of your professor, your labmates, or anyone else who may have connections with the speaker, and have them introduce you. Familiar faces during networking can also put you at ease, boosting your performance.
Practise your pitches
Your turn to speak to your target has come. One standard question during any academic event is “what’s your research about?” Prepare for this question with a well-crafted pitch. An effective pitch shows off your knowledge, and highlights your communication abilities. Shorter pitches are more suitable when engaging presenters who’ll need to speak to other participants.
Academic events are also an excellent way to meet your peers. Here, you can provide a longer pitch, to cut through the jargon and explain your research a little more informally.
Leave an impression
As the conversation comes to an end, you need to make sure people will remember you once the event is over. Don’t take the risk of being forgotten! Consider using creatively designed business cards to strengthen the impression. Alternatively, you can use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to expand your connections, by communicating with the presenters online.
Networks don’t maintain themselves. Be prepared to invest efforts to deepen your relationships after starting them. You could send your connections updates on your publications and other research, for example. You stand to gain a lot from meaningful scholarly discussions of your research – these could spark off collaborations or even end up in a job opportunity.
Networking is a skill no longer exclusive to businesspeople. Scientists need to learn to capitalise on networks to exchange research ideas and advance their careers. It doesn’t hurt to have friends who share the same passion in science as you. It’s also helpful to get to know the people who may become your peer reviewers, grant evaluators and collaborators.
Practise these skills for your next networking adventure!
His research focuses on the evolution of magnetotactic bacteria and biophysics of neurons. In his free time, Andy enjoys using the gym and writing.