As part of our series on how doctoral students and research staff can make the most of networking to support their career development, I wanted to share a few key pieces of advice on how to build and make the most of your careers network. This isn't intended to be everything you'll ever need to know about networking for careers; just a summary of things I tend to say often in individual conversations with researchers.
- Build a map of your networks. You can do this through mind mapping all of the groups and communities you're part of, both inside and outside of your research. Think as broadly as you can and don't forget to include personal networks such as family and friends. I sometimes tell people to think of everyone they interact with in an average week or have spoken to for more than a minute in the last 48 hours. This blog post by Sarah Blackford helpfully lists the kinds of networks that researchers are usually part of. You may be surprised at how many people you already know who are working in organisations or sectors that interest you.
- Make the most of your research collaborations. I often chat to people who are wanting to work in research organisations outside of academia but don't think they have any relevant contacts. When I then ask if their research project involves collaborations with any external partners, however, they instantly reply that it does. Why not get in touch with your research collaborators ahead of their next visit to campus and ask for half an hour of their time to chat about what's happening in their industry or sector? Say that you're considering your next career steps and ask for advice about finding opportunities in their sector/organisation. The people who help you with your research are likely to be interested in your subject, working in a related area and in an ideal position to offer advice, insights and introduce you to other contacts. If you don't have any research collaborations, look at the collaborations of other research groups and academics in your Department and across the University. Ask academics if they have any former PhD students now working in x they could connect you with.
- Take it slowly. You don't have to jump straight in and ask if someone can offer you a job. Start by showing an interest in the person and find connections between their interests and yours, especially if you're interested in staying in research. Build the relationship over time; keep your contacts up to date with what you're doing and share information you think might be helpful for them. If you meet an employer you're really interested in but don't want to ask whether they currently have any jobs, try: 'Can you tell me more about opportunities within your organisation?'
- Make the most of conferences and follow up on contacts. Conferences can be great opportunities not only to meet academics you might be able to work with in the future, but also to connect with other research-related organisations. Interested in working in academic publishing? Why not approach one of the journals represented and ask the representatives how they got into publishing? Chances are they will be only too happy to help - networking is part of their job - and it's pretty likely they'll have a PhD themselves. Thank them for their time and ask if you can get in touch with any other questions. Ask for permission to 'pick their brains occasionally'. Put their business card in a safe place and make sure you send them a LinkedIn invite.
- Professional bodies are an underused careers resource. As my colleague Emma highlighted in a previous post, professional bodies (connected to particular profession or sector) and learned societies (linked to an academic field) offer ready-made careers networks, often run careers events and sometimes have lists of their member organisations. Our web pages for researchers include links to the professional bodies and societies closest to your research field.
- Make use of Bath alumni. You can get in touch with Bath graduates working in a wide variety of sectors via Bath Connection. Also try searching on LinkedIn for University of Bath alumni groups.
- Connect with others on social media. I'm not going to expand on this for now as my colleague Ghislaine is going to cover this separately in an upcoming post. She is also running a Doctoral Skills workshop on social media for careers on 26th March. To whet your appetite take a look at our web page on using social media to network and job-hunt.