Networking for Newbies: Challenges for Scientists

Networking is challenging for most scientists, but these difficulties can be overcome through practice and planning. Networking as a scientist presents some interesting challenges, some of which are particular to science. My experience has been that the vast majority of scientists are introverts and this can make meeting new people difficult as individuals can find these interactions emotionally and physically draining. In addition, some scientists lack some social skills that would normally pave the way for smooth personal and professional interactions with others. The other thing that I’ve seen operating sometimes is that science, like any other field, is filled with some individuals who have big egos and this makes networking with these individuals particularly challenging. Scientists are used to thinking strategically on a regular basis; this is great in terms of coming up with a networking plan, but can sometimes be problematic because the role that human nature can play in networking dynamics is sometimes overlooked.

When I talk to graduate students about networking strategies in workshops, I use a formal networking scenario in order to brainstorm ideas in the group and come up with a networking plan. I’ve posted the scenario below:

You are a graduate student who is finishing your first year of graduate school. Your supervisor has asked you to present your work at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Blue Gadgets. You are nervous because you have never been to a conference before, no one else from your lab will be attending (including your supervisor), and you work on Red Gadgets. You know that networking is important and that you want to pursue a Ph.D. with Professor Bigcog who will be at the meeting. What can you do to effectively network:

a) before the meeting? (Planning)

b) during the meeting? (Doing)

c) after the meeting? (Maintaining)

In my next blog post I’ll walk through the steps that you can take prior to the meeting in order to plan for a successful networking experience while at the meeting.

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