How many people do you know? Think about your family, friends, and colleagues. How many does that make?

These people are your network - people who you can go to for advice and support and who can come to you in turn. Networking is the process of growing your network. This might be social networking - adding to your number of friends or social contacts - or it might be more professionally focused with the aim being to support your work or career plans.

Here we will focus on professional networking.

Why is networking important?

For all researchers networking is a crucial skill. Whether you want to stay in academia or take your career in a different direction, a broad network of strong contacts will help you perform effectively and develop your career. In particular, networking will play a key role in opening new opportunities:

  • new career opportunities
  • opportunities for advice and support
  • opportunities to know and be known by more senior figures/key decision makers

As you look to secure a career beyond your degree, networking is how you will promote yourself and what you can do; it is also how you will hear about new and upcoming career opportunities. More broadly, your network is a source of advice and support and will aid your personal and professional performance. Finally, your network is a means to make yourself known to key decision makers - whether that is a potential collaborator, employer, or funder.

How do I network?

There is no one way to network - how you do it will depend on the circumstances at the time and on your own personality. Whichever approach you use, the basic principles remain the same - making contact with new people and looking to build and maintain a relationship with them. If you are unsure what approach might work, why not speak to your supervisor or someone else in your School/Department? They will have advice on things that have worked for them.

There are two things worth remembering.

Firstly, networking takes time - time to identify relevant contacts and to build relationships that will last.

Secondly, networking takes effort. You will need to identify networking opportunities and relevant contacts and perhaps make yourself familiar with their work or their role. You will then need to be proactive in establishing new contacts by talking to people, asking questions, taking part in discussions, etc. and taking action to develop and maintain these new relationships - for example, by following up a new contact with an email to say how much you appreciated speaking to them and reminding them of your contact information.

Finally, remember that the personal approach works best - a personal introduction is much more likely to succeed than an unsolicited email. This is why networking opportunities such as seminars and conferences are so important - they bring you face-to-face with contacts you would not ordinarily meet in your daily work.

Is it all about me?

The more you put into your network, the more you will get out. This applies both to growing your network as well as the value that your network will have over time. Remember that potential contacts will want to see what value you can add to their network. A good way to establish and develop a contact is to be useful in some way - perhaps by sharing your own insights or providing an introduction to someone who is already part of your network.

Your contacts are much more likely to want to be part of your network and to support you if they feel they will get the same support in return.

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