Academic Career Coach: Series on Networking

Academic Career Coach: Series on Networking

#1: How to Start Networking?

Written for Scientistt

This is blog #1: How to start networking? Thanks Hellen, for asking this excellent question. In my perspective, networking has a lot to do with following your curiosity, gaining information about others, and sharing your own. Therefore, I rather talk about building authentic relationships with others. Though, for now, I’ll stick to the concept of networking. A lot is going on around on this topic. In your question Hellen, you already mention a few elements, like networking in day-to-day work, at academic gatherings, and maintaining and cultivating your connections. Also, think of the on- and offline part of networking. Therefore, I will create this series on networking. Every episode, each blog, will dive into another part of networking. Starting with: How to start networking?

‘There’s no career in academia without networks.’ (Heffernan, 2020)

So, what is networking? Forret and Dougherty (2004) state that ‘Networking represents proactive attempts to develop and maintain personal and professional relationships with others for the purpose of mutual benefit in their work or career.’ Although many think of networking only as the means of finding a job, it is also, following Haynes et al. (2008), ‘important for continued success in the researcher’s present position.’ Or as Troy Heffernan (2020) puts it: ‘There’s no career in academia without networks.’ In his article, we can read that academic networking research shows that ‘networks can play a direct role in career success through employment, publication, and conference opportunities.’ Hence, there is also the indirect effect of networking, like gaining an academic position that enables researchers to work with the most recent data sets. It is worthwhile to read his study, particularly the part where he elaborates on Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus (1988). For a researcher willing to move towards industry, the findings of Eloïse Germain-Alamartine et al. (2020) sound interesting. She points out that the autonomous build networks of the researchers might help them to ‘match their specific scientific expertise with labor market demands.’ 

It is about building authentic relationships with others that might be beneficial for each of you in one way or another.

Writing about networking reminds me of a moment, back in the days I was still a MA student, when I faced a different networking approach. As a student Literary Studies, I joined the minor ‘International Conflict Prevention’ with mainly International Organization students. And they were full-on about networking. During one of the first breaks, they started swapping their business cards around while telling each other about their possible future careers. Exchanging business cards, that almost everyone equals to networking, is just a mean to exchange contact information. It isn’t about ‘making meaningful contact that are long lasting’ (Haynes et al., 2008). I was 24 years of age, and I just wanted to meet others out of curiosity, to hear about their journey. Though, I stood there, never thought about business cards, holding probably the most active network of them all. I didn’t want to impose on others with the story of ‘Me, Me and Me’; I followed my genuine interest towards others. Especially this, I would argue, opens up the possibility to create strong network ties, ties that are long-term investments. Networking isn’t about selling yourself (Raver, 2012). It is about building authentic relationships with others that might be beneficial for each of you in one way or another. You listen, you give, and you share; networking has a lot to do with intellectual generosity (I’ll come back to this point!).

So, think of what you consider to be networking. Why do you want to network? What are your objectives? The questions to these question matter in the network strategy you want to set-up. This worksheet, offered by #Whisperfest (2020), might help you define your future actions to the kinds of networks you want to strengthen. But let’s get back on the topic: how to start?

Haynes et al. (2008) provides us with the most ensuring statement I could find about networking: ‘it can be accomplished in almost any situation that allows interaction with other scientists.’ To which I want to add that scientists can be replaced by people. And there it is, your starting point of networking lies in any situation you meet with others. So, a logical start would be to consider all those interesting people you have in your life. Is there someone who is having a career you could only wish you have? Or someone who is working at the company you want to work? Wrote an article or book you found interesting? Reach out and ask if this person wants to tell you more about how he/she got there. And don’t act difficult on the reaching out part, do whatever suits you: grab your phone, send an e-mail, write a letter. The relevant term is that your message has to be sincere; you need to act out of your authentic curiosity. Then, start to build strong network ties in your day-to-day work setting, with your peers, co-workers, and fellow researchers, is your next step. 

Networking: ‘it can be accomplished in almost any situation that allows interaction with other scientists.’ (Haynes, 2008)

Don’t make networking any harder than it is. Each day you can start networking. I want to encourage you to start networking today, with building strong network ties with all those interesting people around you. And yes, Hellen, your second question about maintaining your network is also crucial. Networks are only beneficial when contact is maintained. Though a future blog will cover this one, I’ll reveal already the key to manage your network. I believe that by continually following your curiosity and being open to gain information about others and sharing your own, you will actively stay in contact with your network.