What is networking? When most of us learn about the idea of “networking,” it invokes a picture of awkwardly introducing ourselves to some important stranger at a conference, sounding smart, and convincing him/her to keep you in mind when they have a job opening. It sounds fake and kind of sleazy and makes me start sweating just thinking about it.
For industry and non-academic jobs, networking is vital. On the inside, your work might speak for itself and other academics can help connect you. To look outside the ivory tower, however, you must start meeting people on the outside. For the shy and introverted in academia, this seems daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.
Why network? According to a lot of people who have real jobs, they got them through someone they know. Online applications rarely get you the interview (even though I just filled out four to feel productive).
Oh, and MOST JOBS ARE NOT ADVERTISED.
Besides, there may be cool jobs out there that you’ve never considered, there may be jobs with too many applicants to stand out by resume alone, and some companies or start-ups don’t post openings because they rely on referrals and don’t want/need to spend money advertising. Even after you have a job, continuing to network will help you advance your career. The purpose of your “network” is to have people who are familiar with your interests and backgrounds who will think of you when an opportunity comes through their email.
Where to network? My main point is that when I decided I wanted to leave academia, I found that it was easier to network than I thought because it started happening by accident. You don’t always have to do a ton of informational interviews, even though they are useful. Listed below are the situations that I found myself “networking” in, with specific examples.
- Volunteering and outreach events
Since I am interested in science outreach, when I was living in San Diego I started volunteering at the science center on the weekends. I also participated in mentoring programs I learned about through my postdoc and all of the outreach events I could find. Through my science center volunteering I got to know some of the full time employees, and this way I managed to get an interview for a position there. And checking tickets at the door is where I met Olivia Mullins!
While volunteering for adult-centered outreach events out in the community I met a few scientists in industry. When you meet at an outreach event, chatting about your background comes naturally. If you don’t hear about outreach through email and you don’t have a local science center, check LinkedIn or craigslist for volunteer opportunities. Searching LinkedIn under the jobs section, you can often find postings by VoluteerMatch.
- Meet-up groups
I am spoiled in So Cal because there are scientists everywhere, but I found a number of meet-up groups where the members worked in the science community. In case you haven’t heard of it, Meetup.com is a website where you can find people that have a common interest who hold events. I found a group that called themselves nerds, so of course there were a few scientists in there. Another was a skeptic group that held monthly science talks – I only went to one meeting, but the few that I met were involved in science somehow. I met someone once who was part of a DIY science meet-up, who seemed to consist of a lot of educators. Depending on your location, the number of meet-up groups varies a lot, but you can also start your own.
- Career development workshops
You may be antsy to get out of academia, but while you are there don’t take for granted the career development resources you have at your disposal. Most places have a designated career development or grad student/postdoc office for such things, and you can even volunteer to set up an event if you aren’t satisfied with what they offer. If you help organize a career panel, you can host one of the professionals on the panel for the day. Or, you can organize a lunch, where one person comes to talk about their career and answer questions in a small group setting (h/t to TSRI for doing those).
I’m also going to mention Toastmasters here – in case you aren’t familiar, Toastmasters is a public-speaking club and they are located throughout the world. They often put their meetings on Meetup.com because they are open to anyone who wants to check it out. I did Toastmasters in San Diego and it was not only a great place to meet awesome supportive people, but it is the quintessential career development workshop open to the public.
- Online (LinkedIn groups, discussion groups)
I saved this option for last because it’s not exactly real-life and social media isn’t a great thing to spend too much time on when working, but it can still be productive. My one example is that I started chatting with someone through LinkedIn who is trying to start a science communication agency, and this was initiated by commenting on a post he wrote. One trick I learned about LinkedIn is that you can message people in a group that you join without being connected, so join groups that are relevant to your interests (there are non-academic PhD career groups). I’ve also become connected to people through Facebook discussions groups about science communication. Someone else might mention Twitter here, but I still don’t know how to use that one productively.
And as a note to anyone who gets nervous meeting new people, let me tell you – it gets easier the more you do it. So go do it.
This list is mostly based on my personal experiences, so it would be great if anyone wanted to add their own networking tips in the comments! Thanks!