It's week 2 of researcher careers month, and our focus this week is on networking. For in-depth guidance on how and why to network in person and online and how this can help your career, sign up for the session my colleague Ghislaine is running tomorrow on networking for career development. To whet your appetite, I wanted to give you a few starter questions to get you thinking about networking and why it's important.
1. Who's in your network anyway?
Most of the people I talk to underestimate the number of people you know who could help you in your career. To help you map out your network, think about all of the people you regularly encounter in a typical week, or all of the people you have spoken to for at least 5 minutes in the last 48 hours. All of them could potentially have insights, information or other contacts that could help you along the way to your ideal career. This excellent blog post provides a great summary of the people who are in a researcher's network, including academic related networks, people you meet along the way at conferences and careers events, professional bodies and personal networks including friends and family. Think about all of the people you work with as part of your research, and all of the people who have a stake in it or need to know about it. External partners and industrial sponsors - who you may be in regular contact with anyway - are working in fields that may interest you and therefore in a great position to offer advice, further contacts or even a job. If you're a social scientist, your research participants or those who will benefit from your research will also be useful career contacts. Next time you're due to meet with your research partners, why not ask them if you can schedule a bit of extra time to ask them about routes in to their organisation, job or sector, what they do day-to-day in their roles and any advice they would give you on how to follow a similar path?
The academics you work with can also be invaluable sources of career networks; they may have industrial partners with organisations used be interested in, or have contacts with their former PhD students or postdocs now working in areas you'd like to explore. If you're interested in a bit of a shift of research field, it's worth having a look at the other research groups in the university.
Think too about who you might need to reconnect with. Are there contacts from previous professional experience who might be able to offer insights and advice? People you've met at conferences or career events and now is a good time to follow up on the conversation? Finding ways to stay in touch with new contacts is a good professional habit; send LinkedIn invitations to people you meet along the way as standard practice, and check out my colleague's great advice on how to keep a networking conversation going.
Professional bodies - linked to particular industries and sectors and learned societies - linked to academic subject areas - can be excellent sources of networks relating to your field. They'll often run careers events and conferences, have local member or special interest groups and have lists of their member organisations. See here for more tips on how professional bodies can benefit your career, and look out for a guest blog on this later in the week.
2. How can networking help your career?
Networking with people already working in areas that interest you is often the best way to get up-to-date, realistic information about what working in those jobs and sectors is actually like. Networking conversations can, therefore, give you some inspiration and help you clarify whether a career path you're considering is right for you. Networking can also help to raise your profile, which is crucial in any case for making people aware of your research. Networking can also help you find the vast array of jobs which are never advertised; smaller, niche organisations often don't have the money to actively advertise vacancies or attend careers fairs, so they rely on people approaching them or on employing people they already know.
3. What stops us networking?
Different people can have different barriers to networking. You might doubt that people will be interested or actually want to help you. If this is you, ask yourself how you'd feel if someone asked you for some advice or information you could easily give. Most of us will help if we can. The key thing is to find people with common interests, take a genuine interest in them and think about how you could help them too. I often share articles and resources that I think people in my network will be interested in. Ask yourself what's the worst thing that can happen; the answer is usually that people just don't reply or don't have time to help; in which case, pause, re-group, and contact someone else instead.
For more on the hows and why of career networking as a researcher, check out: