During my time with Gradifying, we have touched on the subject of networking on many occasions, and offered lots of perspectives including: conference networking, networking with grad alumni and so many more. A couple of weeks ago, Dustin highlighted networking smart, not hard and connected with that, last week Sharday investigated choosing the core of your network, your Supervisor.
This week I wanted to talk more about making connections…but not in expected places, like making a connection with your supervisor, or your peers, or when you’re at a conference. I want to explore how we can use unexpected places, like the Internet, and the things we do every day on the internet to make connections. I’m sure your mind immediately went to LinkedIn, and rightfully so. LinkedIn and other professional website services are common ways to create an online presence and form a professional network. But what about outside of these designated networking sites? Is it possible to form connections and network in a less-structured way online?
Well, I know based on my own personal experiences that the answer to that question is yes.
I have a somewhat, so-so, almost, iffy, half-established online presence and I have tried to use non-traditional means to connect with other researchers, professionals, and just people in general with similar interests. I feel like I have had some success and wanted to share what I have learned so far with our readers.
Several months ago I wrote a post about how to get the most out of Twitter. Twitter is a mysterious world that I am still trying to wrap my head around. But one thing I am certain of is that it can be used as a networking tool. I have some hashtags I am specifically interested (#fieldwork #iamabotanist, etc.) and I follow these hashtags quite closely. I noticed that some tweeters tweet often about these topics. As such, I followed them on Twitter, and in many cases, they followed me back. #EXCITING! I even ran into some of these people at conferences, and because my twitter handle @am_tracey was on my name tag and presentation slides, we were able to connect and meet in person. I never thought Twitter was a place to connect with other researchers in my field but hey, why not, right?
I use web forums for a lot of reasons. Mainly, I look for help with statistics. This is probably the most frequent use for forums over my time in graduate school, and was especially common in my earlier Master’s years. I would post questions in forums, and on occasion offer an answer to a question I actually knew the answer to. There was one really tough analysis I was working on during my Master’s. No one in my department could help me, so I turned to an online forum. I ended up getting an answer from a young Professor in the eastern US who had experienced the same issues as I was. He sent me his email and offered to help me via Skype. It took some time and flexibility with schedules but he was able to help me rework my script to function in the program I was struggling with. Several months after my issue was resolved, he found a neat blog post he wanted to highlight in one of his courses, but had some questions about it. He isn’t in any plant-related field (like I am) and emailed me asking for my opinion and of course I happily gave it to him. We have maintained contact with each other at least once a year since then with little items here and there. A totally unexpected connection that has helped me so much.
In addition to stats, I also identify flowers on a regular basis, but sometimes, I need help. There are support forums online where you can submit photos and descriptions of plants and experts help you work through the identification process. I submitted some very challenging specimens and the experts (botanists from all over the world) helped me to identify these species. Feeling eternally grateful for their help, I offered to help field some of the ID questions from this geographical area. They took me up on this offer and my experience has been great thus far. I am in frequent email contact with these incredibly talented folks on a regular basis, some have even started forwarding job postings they come across as they know I’m nearing the end of my PhD – another incredible connection online.
We network every day in person, at conferences and in all the expected places. But we spend much of our time online, surfing the web, posting in forums, tweeting, and connecting with people all over the world, even though we might not realise that. Maybe networking online isn’t so unexpected after all.
My question to our readers is, is this a common thing? Have any of you had experiences where you have made connections in totally unexpected places online? Let me know in the comments!