By Matt Jamieson
Every researcher has to network in order to develop their career. However for some this can feel like a difficult and potentially stressful task. Personally I find the idea of approaching admired professors and researchers at conferences daunting, and the prospect of engaging in intellectual conversation as equals seems unlikely. A bit like trying to impress Beyoncé by challenging her to a dance off. With this in mind I asked a few more experienced colleagues how they networked successfully at the beginning of their career and curated together the following pieces of advice:
1. Go to conferences and do oral presentations. Conferences are traditionally the setting for most networking opportunities so you should select them based on your interests and apply to present. You might feel daunted talking in front of a big group but it’s so much more efficient than the hit or miss free for all of poster presentations. It guarantees that everybody will hear you and makes it much easier to approach people later as you will have a reference point. When at conference presentations, ask questions; apparently there is no such thing as a stupid question. Asking questions to presenters is a good way of getting noticed, engaging in the research and learning more about your topic. If you can’t bring yourself in front of the crowd at a conference then ask the presenter one on one later, or even via email.
2. If you feel intimidated when talking to someone at a conference, email them instead. Although it’s usually best to have a direct question or request (such as asking for an article or measure). This can be a good way of letting someone know who you are and that you are doing similar work. The most successful people always seem to reply to emails the fastest.
3. Another good way to let someone know you exist is to visit their University or lab if you happen to have some time in their city. Mostly people will be happy to show you around or meet with you for an hour.
4. Remember that the researchers you are most likely to collaborate with throughout your career are early in their career at the moment. So work on developing a network of people at your stage doing research you find interesting. This can often feel much more natural and less intimidating than approaching more established researchers.
5. Networking sites like LinkedIn may sometimes seem a bit strange and forced (the other day I got an LinkedIn auto-request from my Dad). However they can be a really useful way of making you ‘Google’ visible as a researcher. If someone is interested in your work then the last thing you want is to make it really difficult for them to find you. It’s also a good way to advertise your research and improve your impact. The same goes for twitter which has become such a well tuned tool for research impact in recent years.
Remember that, like that spider in the corner of the room, your future collaborator is probably just as scared of you as you are of them.
Hopefully these suggestions will be helpful during your next conference or event. If you have any advice or other tips then please share below.