Networking. The word instantly inspires thoughts of bustling rooms, long conversations and endless lists of LinkedIn profiles. However, the actual meaning of what networking is can be a loose concept at times. To some it is merely a by-product of social interaction, whereas to others it’s a more focused and deliberate affair that acts as a future investment in their career. Whatever your view, networking should always be regarded as a crucial skill that incorporates aspects of research, strategy and social interaction to help further your career.
As with all skills, networking is one that can be constantly revised and improved. This list aims to provide you with tips on efficient and effective networking. Whilst the majority of points can apply to networking outside of the scientific spectrum, they still remain extremely pertinent to the ambitious researcher.
1. Networking is a contact sport. With the Rugby World Cup 2015 in full flow it’s time to take a leaf out of the rugby players’ book and make contact! Whilst it isn’t advisable to tackle your nearest colleague to the floor, it would be wise to make sure that you network as much as possible in person. A face-to-face conversation with someone will not only leave more of an impression on them (making yourself more memorable), but also provides you with a chance to improve your communication skills.
2. Diversify your networks. Though it may be tempting to keep to networking within your specific areas of interest, it can restrict your future career prospects. By exposing yourself to a variety of new people and organisations outside of your usual field, you can broaden your knowledge base of subjects (a useful and attractive prospect to potential employers).
3. Informational interviews are invaluable. Informational interviews often provide the perfect opportunity to learn more about a subject, industry or institution from someone who is actively working in that sector. Not only does this provide you with invaluable first-hand occupational information, but it also provides a contact within that area. Just remember to always make these meetings a face-to-face affair and always follow up by thanking the person by phone or email.
4. Practice your ‘elevator pitch’ – but don’t sound too scripted. The ability to communicate your skillsets, innovations and interests in an engaging way to potential employers, investors or colleagues is one of the most invaluable talents to possess. Often referred to as an ‘elevator pitch’ it’s important to practice being able to convey the messages you want to get across to others in a limited time period. In particular try to summarise your skills and personal ideas alongside real-life examples that demonstrate where and how you used these skills.
5. Competitions can be key. Various science-related competitions can provide an informative and extremely unique method of networking within science. Competitions such as the Biotechnology YES offer both the teachings of leading figures from industry, as well as the chance to present your ideas to business, financial and academic representatives. Additionally, you will often gain access to prominent figures from different sectors who you can approach for information and advice.
6. Join a learned society. Joining a learned society, such as the British Society for Immunology or Royal Society of Biology, affords you with access to the society’s events that will offer the opportunity to engage within different areas of interest. This will not only expose you to specific science networking events, but also to the latest news and views in varying scientific fields from highly respected figures. Some societies will also provide training programmes designed to develop the skills necessary for an accelerated career progression in science.
7. Look to collaborate. The scientist of the 21st century lives in an environment of global communication, contribution and collaboration. It is therefore an almost intrinsic aspect of the scientific community to network by collaboration. This form of networking will provide you with often long and significant connections within your own fields of interest, as well as related areas.
8. Learn to easily communicate complex science. This is a key attribute for all researchers. There will often be times whilst making presentations, proposals or even contacts within different networks when it’s necessary to convey your own area of expertise in a clear and concise manner. For this it is instrumental that you can deliver key concepts of your subject in a succinct and accessible manner. This will allow your audience to remain engaged with the content of your information, and keeps the conversation as an interactive event for both parties, (which will reflect favourably on you).
9. Different paths can open you to more networks. Taking the road less travelled can prove an extremely useful networking tool. It’s easy to follow specific career paths that can restrict both networking opportunities and career prospects; however often looking at less obvious options could be rewarded with greater benefits. For example, whilst university-based PhDs may be the more traditional route, it may be advantageous to investigate a PhD with an industrial component. This involves a company offering a PhD through a university partner which, in-turn, provides exposure to a wider array of scientific sectors and networks, while also contributing to the development of a more complete set of skills by the end.
10. Always give back to your networks. A vital aspect of networking, often overlooked, is that it’s a two-way process and you must contribute as well as take. While this may appear to be a concept of: “I have given, therefore I shall now receive,” it should not be regarded this way. Instead it should be seen as strengthening your own existing networks in a manner that enhances your own reputation both within your network and to other networks. This will ultimately lead to a more significant output from your own networks, whilst enabling you to access the network of other groups with more ease.
What do you think of our top tips? Do you have any tips of your own for successful networking? Let us know in the comments box.
Mark is currently working as an intern for the British Society for Immunology having recently received his MSc in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.