How do I network outside of academia when I have no connections?
Many of us might cringe at the idea of “networking.” Maybe we feel like networking is only about using people for our own gain. Or maybe we think networking is about attending awkward social events and asking acquaintances we barely know for job connections.
Here’s the thing. Many of these fears are based on misconceptions around what networking is or can be.
At Beyond the Professoriate we see networking as community building. It’s about curiosity, expanding your horizons, getting to know new people, and learning about new careers. Networking is also about reciprocity—it’s not “using” other people. It’s about taking the time to ask questions, learning new things, and figuring out how to tell your story. It’s about discovering what other people’s interests are, how you can help them, and what might be mutually beneficial for both of you.
Networking is really just relationship-building—a skill that is valuable for any career.
So how can you build a network if you have no connections?
Networking Beyond Academia
Chances are you do have a network.
Family, friends, professors, people you interact with on campus—these are all connections that are part of your network. You may just not have gotten to know them in a different capacity yet! Consider the admin and staff on your campus for instance. You may find there are several who are PhDs. Reach out and ask for informational interviews, find out what they do in their day-to-day jobs, ask what energizes them about the work they do.
You can also get active on social media.
There are many ways to build an online community that can help you in your job search. Checkout this video interview on our blog featuring Lee Skallerup Bessette, PhD. Hear how Lee created a community by being active on Twitter, and how her social media network helped her start a new career as a Learning Design Specialist.
- Think about networking and start building relationships now. Read Malisa’s guest blog post on how she overcame networking misconceptions and how it helped her land her first post-PhD job.
- Start doing informational interviews. Begin with people on campus or even friends, family, and acquaintances. Visit this post for tips on getting started.
- Get active online. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are great places to reach out to alumni or #postac PhDs. Catherine Maybrey, PhD, has advice on how you can leverage your network on LinkedIn in her article, Managing Your LinkedIn Network.
Networking in Academia
Networking is just as important in academia.
It may not seem like it or look quite the same but networking in academia can help you find out if a lab is the right fit for you; find out if an advisor is the right fit for you; collaborate with new colleagues; or collaborate with new research partners beyond academia.
You can absolutely do informational interviews with academics.
Ask to talk to former postdocs or current students in a lab to find out more about the PI and their work. Or ask to talk to professors in teaching-institutions and R1 institutions to see which kind of career would be a better fit for you. Many academics have also found they really appreciate online communities—look on twitter to see if there are any communities in your discipline or field of interest you can participate in (e.g. #scicomm, #twitterstorians, #academictwitter).
Some other resources for thinking about networking in academia:
- Follow Katrina Gulliver’s tips for academics who are new to Twitter: 10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics.
- Tips and tricks for academic networking (and how it can improve your scholarship as well as job prospects).
- Read how Penny Pexman, PhD collaborates with a wide-range of community partners, and how these relationships have helped her provide graduate students with experiences beyond academia.
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