Contributor Joanne Kamens
Networking has gotten a really bad name. I take your card, you take my card and then we don’t call each other. Scientists often don’t make time for it because it seems “fake” or as though it isn’t worthwhile. In reality, strong and abundant professional relationships are necessary for most people to have opportunities to develop their careers, including scientists.
You may have already realized that who you know is as important as what you know. Fewer have realized the importance of “who knows you”. However, as with any lofty goal (I will become a better “networker” this year…) it is hard to break this down into actual steps to start changing your habits.
Networking is an ongoing activity. You can’t start growing your relationships when you are looking for a new job. I was offered a position at a biotech company by someone I had known for almost 10 years: a grad school classmate who I hadn’t seen in 20 years invited me to speak at her university. When I had my final interview with the board of directors for this amazing job at Addgene, I already knew 4 of the people in the room, making it a much more pleasant experience. Long time connections also helped me find great summer jobs for my kids during their high school years.
I would like to leave the theoretical realm of career skills by providing practical tools and concrete suggestions for nurturing new and established connections. For example, if you sat next to someone you didn’t know, at every science seminar attended this year and introduced yourself, you would meet a lot of interesting people. Being involved in activities outside the lab in the larger scientific community is the best “not fake” way to meet colleagues in other organizations or with other career paths.
I would have missed out on many opportunities if I hadn’t learned to ask for what I needed. It turns out that most people actually like to help and, they like you better once they have done you a good turn! Learning to be open about your needs helps you develop relationships.
Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the United States, realized this and the phenomenon is now known as the Ben Franklin Effect. “He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”(1)
In his autobiography, Franklin explains how he had to deal with a colleague on the Pennsylvania legislature who didn’t like him. He asked to borrow a book and returned it with a thank you note. Here’s how this turned out:
“When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”
In Franklin’s time, borrowing a book was a big deal—nowadays it might be more like borrowing an iPad. Nevertheless, modern studies have demonstrated that this phenomenon is true, and even a small favor has a big effect on creating or deepening a relationship. I have found that accepting a favor as small as vacation advice can make an acquaintance into a friend. It is even more effective if you follow up with a thank-you email after you use said advice.
On May 20th, I will be giving a workshop on tools and tactics for building relationships at the NatureJobs Career Expo in Boston. If you are in town, I hope you can join us.
Here is one more tip—network with people you like. There is no rule that says you have to spend time hobnobbing with someone if you don’t enjoy their company. If you choose your techniques for creating community carefully, networking should actually be fun almost all of the time.
Joanne Kamens will be running the session Not Networking 101 – Building relationships for success in science at the Naturejobs Career Expo on May 20th in Boston, MA.