Networking is a crucial part of academic life. It’s how we find jobs, get funding for projects, and make professional connections that lead to opportunities for collaboration. Unfortunately, it can be hard to meet people especially if you’re just not the extroverted type. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that even introverted academics can get their networking on without having to leave their home or office!
Local seminars and professional meetings
Your university, a professional association, or other groups may hold seminars and meetings that you can attend. These events bring together people with common interests to discuss their research and expertise. While networking at these kinds of events is usually informal and brief, they can be great ways to meet people in your field. You may also learn about new opportunities, find collaborators or get feedback on your work at one of these meetings. They are also usually far easier to attend than conferences.
Another way you can talk with people face-to-face is by participating in activities organized by local academics and fellow graduate students and ECRs—for example:
Research workshops (e.g., data management)
Conferences are a great way to network, especially if you’re just starting out in academia. Networking at conferences is generally more informal than networking in the workplace mainly because much of the actual networking occurs during lunches and dinners. You don’t need to explain why you’re there or what your goals are; most people will assume that you are there because academics like spending time together. If you approach someone with the intention of befriending them, rather than just getting their business card for later use, then they will probably be receptive to this kind of interaction (though some exceptions exist).
Academic conferences provide an excellent opportunity for junior scholars to get their name out there and establish themselves as experts in their field of study. In addition, they can connect with potential mentors who might be able to help them navigate through their career path as well as give advice on how best present themselves at future academic events.
Professional associations linking academics to other professions
Professional associations are one of the easiest ways to network in academia. These groups link academics in many fields, providing a place for them to share ideas and meet each other, even outside of academia (as academia is not the be-all and end-all). They can be used to find jobs, funding opportunities, and collaborators. Some professional associations also offer career workshops that teach the skills needed for success outside of academia; this is particularly useful if you want to work in a field outside of your own research area, including industry.
Professional associations aren’t just for senior researchers though—all PhD students and postdocs should make an effort to learn about what’s happening outside their research group/department by joining these associations (many of them are either free or have small fees for students) and by attending the functions these associations put on periodically.
Believe it or not, but writing groups can help you develop your networking skills in a couple of useful ways. Writing groups at your university are usually composed of other academics. By joining one, you will be able to connect with other academics. Another benefit of writing groups and workshops is that they help you improve your communication skills. That greatly helps with networking.
Online academic communities (blogs, discussion boards)
Online academic communities (blogs, discussion boards) are another good way to network. You can join online groups on social media, such as on Twitter, Facebook groups, or Google+ communities.
There’s also an option for those who prefer not to keep their work private: if your discipline has an online academic community, there may be opportunities for members to connect with each other.
Networking in academia is important and can come in many forms
As a graduate student or postdoc, you’re always looking for ways to network and connect with people in your field. While networking can take many forms—in person or online, for example—it’s important to remember that networking isn’t just about getting jobs; it’s also about finding mentors and sharing ideas with other academics. As such, if you want to be successful in academia, it’s essential that you learn how to effectively network so that you can build those relationships.
Perhaps the most underrated method of networking is simply reaching out to other people in your field. You can do that in many different ways, from email, to ResearchGate, to Twitter, and so on.
What’s more, you can reach out for many different reasons, from saying how much you liked a paper they published, to simply just introducing yourself and saying that you’re in the same field.
It really is that easy and EFFECTIVE. Because most people feel out of place doing this, not many people do it. As such, you stand out much more. The ironic thing is that directly contacting them is the most normal thing in the world. The thing that holds most people back is that they think that the other person doesn’t want to get to know them. But, if the roles were reversed, would you want to know as many people in your field as possible? Probably, yes. I know I do.
These are just a few of the ways you can network with other academics, but they show that there are plenty of opportunities to get connected. If you’re struggling to find your niche in academia, remember that making connections is what helps us grow as people and professionals, and everyone wants to grow their network. So don’t be afraid because everyone is happy to talk with someone who is polite.
Networking is a key part of academia. Publishing papers is another key part. If you want to learn more about how to write an academic paper, including how to write the abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, and conclusion, and how to respond to reviewers, make sure your paper gets through the publication process, check out our book, “How To Write An Academic Paper 101“.