“Jump in on the conversation.”
“Have an opening ready.”
“Develop your elevator speech.”
“GET OUT THERE!!”
I think these are good tips. Graduate students are one leap away from being in the career they decided to invest heavy doses of time and money into. Networking bridges that final leap. No one is surprised to learn that working hard moves people forward, but we work hard all the time. We’re just past Career Week here at Queen’s, and I would like to offer a few networking points that I think often go unspoken.
Strengthen Your Core
The fitness world talks a lot about strengthening your core, because with a strong core you’re able to improve your fitness in other areas much faster and easier. Think about what type of contacts you want to make. You could play the numbers game and introduce yourself to as many people as you can, but that’s going to use up a lot of time, which means the vast majority of these contacts will be superficial. An alternative is to focus on quality over quantity, and you can do that by starting at your core and working out. The person at the centre – the one that you’re in most contact with (theoretically) and shares the most academic interests with you (theoretically) – is your supervisor. Make sure your supervisor knows the type of opportunities you’d like to have and that you’d like to meet colleagues that could facilitate those opportunities. You’re going to make more relevant contacts, and they’re more likely to be open to collaborating when your supervisor can speak to your character and abilities.
Why Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today
I often get this one backward, but when it comes to setting yourself up well for entering the workforce, you’ll want to get it right. It’s good to have contacts, and it only takes a couple of conferences to build a catalogue of them. But if you want to have meaningful experiences with established individuals in your field that will help you secure a job, you need to start building those relationships early in your graduate career. You will want to work on projects together (e.g., manuscripts, book chapters, developing protocols, whatever is relevant in your field), and it will take time to develop your ideas and implement them. When these projects go well there are opportunities to branch out and meet the colleagues of these established individuals. Now you’re building a solid network. Give yourself several years to do this before you’re on the job market. Start early.
A Blend of Luck and Skill
I’m in my last year of my PhD in Clinical Psychology, and I figured out a bit later in the game exactly what I wanted to do for a career. As soon as I discovered my specific career goal, I started working toward it by first making a plan of what experiences I needed in order to get there. Luck comes to those who are prepared, and once you know what you’re looking for you tend to see it coming down the road before it passes you by. Think about what experiences you need to get you to your goal, find the people in your already-existing network that can help you get a step closer, and watch yourself get lucky.
So go to conferences, talk to presenters, reach out to your favourite authors, network hard – don’t not do these things. But first, make a plan, start at home and branch out, and start it today (or tomorrow, but not the metaphorical tomorrow). Network smart.