Networking notes for the littles
During graduate school we created a professional development seminar for graduate students. At the time I was in the middle of looking for postdocs and somehow got labeled the Networking Expert for the Littles. This was mostly because I had stories of networking gone right, wrong or just plain awkward1. Sharing them was useful because it dismissed this idea of networking being about boldly handing your business card to some Big Cheese and getting favors in return.
-Don’t focusing solely on the big cheeses and the cool kids table. Sure if you find yourself next to a Nobel laureate in the buffet line, by all means (actually happened to me). Mostly just talk to people you think do interesting research, regardless of rank. Yes that means even grad students. Don’t assume that how famous a person is will correlate with how useful a connection it may be (now or a few years later).
-It is probabilistic and gradual. Don’t expect results to be direct and immediate. That you will “get something” out of each encounter, other than hopefully an interesting conversation. Think of it as slowly expanding the number of people who know you as a researcher. Yes, you could rely on your pubs for that. I don’t know how much that makes sense in the context of very junior folks like grads/postdocs. When you’re an associate prof with a bit of a paper trail, working on your 6th R01 you can have the “they’ll come to me” attitude. Until then I would not assume that it will be intuitively obvious to everyone that you’re an amazing researcher. Talk to people about your research. Or theirs. On in general.
The times that things have worked out well for me are a mix of targeting someone I think does interesting research and emailing them ahead of conferences, and serendipitous meetings with people who weren’t even on my radar at the time. Mostly it’s about being an active participant with some occasional targeted interactions.
1. The best story involves a romantic walk on the beach.