Networking isn’t a dirty word

A few weeks back I went to an early career workshop focused on grant writing, career progression and that horrible, dirty word – networking. At the start of the two days of talks, the group of young researchers made a list of relevant issues for discussion on a flock of compliant whiteboards. There was a general consensus when issues were raised and noted. When networking came up, responses were polarised.

On one hand, a group of early career researchers (ECRs) emphatically agreed that networking is a must have skill. A second group of ECRs did the polite version of a collective groan – networking isn’t a thing and we should just move on to something more important, like publishing.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I love networking, but I’m wary of Networking. What’s the difference?

‘Networking’ is a staged, learned skill. It is that very easily identifiable attempt to interact with people with a purpose in mind. What can I get from this person? What can I gain in the future? This approach is just so abhorrently dull. I really can’t imagine that impressive senior people in academia or other industries enjoy these overt attempts to ingratiate yourself with them.

However, ‘networking’ is all about having a good time and meeting good people. This is a genuine attempt to interact with new people. Hey, you’re interesting, tell me everything you know! Here are some of my thoughts on networking:

  • The most important networking is with your peers. Going to conferences or workshops and having an alcoholic/non-alcoholic/caffeinated/decaffeinated beverage is genuinely important. Your peers are your future collaborators, partner investigators and support network. My PhD peers are now my most trusted colleagues who can advise me on graciously responding to bad reviews, navigating a major grant writing, planning a career move or starting a family. Try to get around and meet new peers and cement your professional friendships, these are the people that help you feel connected through good and bad.
  • You can’t be shy. If you hear a talk that piques your interest or know of someone attending a meeting who intrigues you, don’t be afraid to linger awkwardly, waiting for a chat. That said, ask questions, talk about yourself, but don’t fawn. It’s weird and uncomfortable. Be bold enough to have a chat but respectful enough not to monopolise someone and exclude others. In combination, enthusiasm and good manners are endearing.
  • If someone brushes you off, don’t take it personally. People are busy and some people simply aren’t good with people. Just because someone is a superstar in your field or the vice-chancellor of your university or on the committee of your professional society, it doesn’t mean that their skill set includes being good at meeting new people. If someone throws you a cold shoulder, shake it off, grab another alcoholic/non-alcoholic/caffeinated/decaffeinated beverage, have a chat to someone who thinks you’re tops and hit up that tray of conference muffins together!
  • With that in mind, happy networking!



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