Tips for PhDs to build a solid networking strategy
I took a couple of stabs at writing this post but every time I attempted to pull together a replicable, DYI networking guide for PhDs I came to a conclusion that the solutions to solving the networking puzzle need to be fairly individualised. After all, it is precisely the individualised approach that I adopt in the context of my coaching work, given that it is probably one of the top three issues that come up again and again during coaching conversations. Networking seems to be a bit of a kryptonite for a lot of my coachees, something they know they are supposed to be doing but often really dread and approach with little enthusiasm. In fact, mention the word “networking” to a bunch of PhD students or early career researchers and you can instantly feel the tension in the air, visions of cold calling, sweaty palms exchanging business cards and reducing human contact to very calculated interactions. Or at least these seem to be the most prevailing notions of networking and certainly I used to believe some of those myths before I figured out an approach that worked for me.
To start with, there were a number of resources I benefitted from and I am going to share them in the later part of the post to help others come up with their own strategy. Secondly, in devising my own networking strategy I drew as much as possible on my strengths and preferences, that is planning, good understanding of a number of online tools to support the process and preference for 1:1 and smaller group interactions. Having a strategy in place allowed me to manage networking in large group situations as well, as I could plan my approach well in advance and would start by consulting the list of attendees and circling the names of people I wanted to catch up with. Then I would reach out prior to the event, usually via email, to arrange a meeting, which accomplished a couple of things: I could avoid walking around the conference venue, trying to read people’s badges and trying to find that one person among hundreds of delegates. I could also manage my social energy better by spacing out the meetings at my convenience rather than suffering through what felt like never-ending stream of unconnected conversations which for a hard-core introvert like myself can be challenging. And finally, I made sure to capture any follow-up actions from those conversations and be prompt in sending those copies of reports or papers I promised, also a perfect excuse to maintain the relationship and keep in touch. At this stage, most of my networking has moved away from the conference scene to professional association events and relationship-building with fellow PhD coaches, happening mostly online due to distance. All this is to say that your networking approach will likely need adopting to your individual circumstances and is likely to change over time and so you may find it useful to use the resources below to begin the process of building your own networking strategy. And if you have any questions about networking and how you could develop your own strategy, let me know if you want to explore coaching with me.
A good place to start the process of reflection would the networking game developed for researchers at University of Edinburgh which allows you to work out your “networking persona” and put yourself in the shoes of other PhD students and researchers who are similarly trying to work out an approach that works for them. The game allows you to work through a number of different scenarios as you follow Lucinda who is completing a research degree in psychology and is about to attend her first international conference and whilst she would like to make the most of the opportunity, she is feeling a little bit apprehensive about networking. The game will help you come up with strategies for managing both your behaviours and emotions around networking and is well worth spending some time on.
A series of posts on networking for graduate students, focusing mostly on how to use LinkedIn to build a professional network. The posts provide a lot of practical advice, complete with a script you could use to send to your potential contacts, advice on following up with contacts your network which is particularly useful as I learnt from my coachees that a step which they find particularly challenging is the art of follow-up and especially relationship maintenance. The posts were written from the point of view of a science PhD student, but most of the advice is applicable regardless of discipline or background.
A snapshot of a Twitter discussion on networking for PhDs which took place in 2013 as part of the #withaphd Twitter chat series co-organised by Jennifer Polk. This resource provides bite-size advice in 140 characters per Tweet (or fewer!) and is a great collection of links to various blog posts and resources on networking. It may also inspire you to engage with Twitter as a networking tool and participate in one of the future #withaphd chats!
Even though translators are the target audience of this short e-book, it will be useful to PhDs regardless of their discipline as its focus is on equipping people with tools to redefine their approach to networking and develop a practical strategy that will yield results. The book introduces the objectives and etiquette of online and offline networking and helps readers to identify areas for improvement, and I really like the practical, no-nonsense approach and found it really helpful in building my own strategy.
What is your networking strategy? Do you have any favourite resources that would be helpful for PhDs?