I have heard the advice “You have to build a network to progress in your career” a countless number of times, but how do you network?
Back in April, I attended the IWA Young Water Professional (YWP) UK Conference at Cranfield University. The conference had a relaxed atmosphere and the attendees were an interesting mix of young academics and professionals working in the water sector. Besides interesting talks about the latest research in water, educational workshops and inspiring panel discussions, it was a great chance to improve networking skills.
Networking can seem unnecessary as a PhD student, however, engaging in conversations and connecting with people outside your university, research field or even outside academia can bring new ideas, provide opportunities and inspire you to think about what to do after a PhD. Additionally, networking teaches you how to communicate and understand the non-academic world outside your PhD bubble!
Presenting to you: 11 networking tips from a YWP!
- “Talk, walk up to people, stretch yourself to grow. Trust me, you won’t regret walking up to someone and opening a conversation at a conference.”
Quote from an established water professional. Apparently, confidence is key.
- Give a presentation.
It makes you approachable and you feel more comfortable talking.
- “Don’t only make it about getting something out of it, but make sure you show what you can bring to others.”
Another piece of advice from a water professional that was given during one of the panel discussions.
- Don’t forget to introduce yourself!
My own advice from personal experience: It is fun to find others keen on sharing stories of their pets or to find out they have a hammock in their office for naps. However, knowing the name of their dog is pretty useless if you don’t know what they do, haven’t asked their name, or worse, haven’t even introduced yourself!
- Attend the social activities.
You can’t meet many people during presentations, and for some, getting coffee and lunch during breaks is more essential than networking. Make sure to actively participate in workshops and attend the social events. This year the IWA YWP UK Conference organised a workshop afternoon, a gala dinner and field trips. I attended a workshop about the circular water economy and learned all about the decrypting of the Enigma code during WW2 on the field trip to Bletchley Park.
- Make it count.
There is no point in talking to interesting people if you can’t contact them afterwards. Business cards work, but you can also connect via LinkedIn or ResearchGate. Connecting with people in a professional manner is what those apps are for so go and update your profile!
- “Learn when and how to walk away.”
This advice given during one of the panel discussions is a tricky but important one. Sometimes when you walk up to people, it doesn’t click, you don’t find each other interesting or the conversation has naturally come to an end. Kindly excuse yourself, say it was nice meeting them and/or find something else to do, like getting more coffee.
- “Do your homework, check the attendance list and don’t be afraid to do some LinkedIn stalking.”
Again, a wonderful piece of advice from a panel discussion. Check who will attend and see if there is anyone you would want to meet. This tip might be very useful for more specialist conferences!
- Road trip!
This tip is not for connecting with new people, but travelling together is a great way to get to know others from your university that are going to the same event. Like doing your homework, check who else is going and arrange travel or accommodation together.
- The “open-group” rule.
How do you know if a group is approachable? And how do you let others know your group is approachable? The “open-group” rule! Make sure to stand in an open group formation. For instance, if there are 3 of you talking, leave a bit of a gap at one side that makes it easy for others to join.
- Don’t just network to network, enjoy it!
Don’t be that person who is clearly networking their way around the room purely for their own benefit. It is still alright to share pictures of your dog and have a genuinely good time!
That's it from me. If you have any other networking tips and tricks up your sleeve, feel free to leave them in the comment section!