At some point in your career, you will hear this: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
You’ve probably seen this in action- I’ve had colleagues exposed to so many great opportunities because of who they knew, regardless of their degree. So it’s important to not only meet professionals in your industry, but to keep in touch with the professionals you meet.
But in order to keep in touch, you first need to meet some people.
Meet networking, the key to success in any industry. At its core, networking isn’t about how other people can help you… it is how you can help other people.
As a big time proponent of collaboration, once someone described networking in this way to me, it changed how I viewed these events. I was no longer viewing myself as “just” a graduate student, but a young professional who was skilled in social media, data analysis, and more. This allowed me to view everyone on even playing fields, regardless of their title.
The finest networking is done when people are enjoying one another’s company, discussing passions and connecting over that shared mutual love for said passion. Two recent conferences I went to both held phenomenal networking events. One was a poster session where scientists got together to learn about each other’s work while chatting over good food and drinks; the other was where we all got assigned an ocean species and given prompts to talk about with our fellow ocean critters. We discussed our favorite foods, our most embarrassing field moments, what we were studying, etc. I still keep in contact with many of the friends made, and it made for a more enjoyable conference experience when I knew others outside of my “group.”
One particular chat I had was about how a fellow scientist and I were both interested in Aboriginal/Māori takes on ocean science. We listened, figured out how we could help one another, and have continued building bridges by connecting one another with other people we think could help. Another one of my connections studies stingrays in New Zealand, and we regularly bounce writing samples off each other. Many others in my network are also genuine friendships, going past just professional boundaries.
Before attending a networking event, think about what strengths, skill sets, and connections you bring. How can you help others (both now and in the future)? Once at the networking event, help connect colleagues you feel may be able to help each other.
I try to be open and friendly during these networking events. It’s sometimes hard for this introvert, as I can be very shy—especially with “celebrities” in the sciences. In those instances I try to have a mutual friend introduce us, or a friend in general come up with me.
If you get star struck, don’t be embarrassed!
Easier said than done, I know, but hear me out: it shows that you follow the person’s career, are interested in their work, and shows your passion. (If it makes you feel better, I once told a major shark scientist, “I’M YOUR BIGGEST FAN!” Awkward. We ended up talking about seal carcasses though, so it turned out okay!)
The science pitch comes into play a lot during networking events. It usually will be what you first say to a new connection; follow this up by listening to their pitch and asking questions. Say the person’s name multiple times if you aren’t the best at remembering names, and ask them for their card in order to follow up (we talked about this in a previous post)! Always close your conversation by saying something like, “If I can help you in any way, please reach out to me or let’s connect via LinkedIn” and present your business card.
Fun fact: networking isn’t always done in conferences!
You can network practically anywhere: your local coffee shop, your gym, the grocery store, at a friend’s party, a bar, and more. That’s why I always carry at least five business cards with me, just in case. I also recommend joining clubs and attend events that relate to an interest you have (for example, NerdNite and TEDx are great for connecting with like-minded people). Networking isn’t always done face-to-face, either. One can network by making calls and emails to strangers (call cold calling and emailing), too; this is hit-or-miss depending the tactic used. We’ll cover cold-calling and emailing in a future post, too.
In any ideal world, every person we meet would be kind, considerate, mindful, generous, and more. However, this isn’t a perfect world. Like any profession, you will encounter people you don’t mesh well with. You either will not want them to help you or can’t help them yourself—and that’s okay. Accept that you are not going to like everyone you meet, and that not everyone will like you. It is those who challenge us that allow us to see things differently and, sometimes, propel you to success.
Always remain fair, impartial, and composed when dealing with those you do not see eye-to-eye with. Word gets around quickly amongst science peers and you want to make sure the gossip about you isn’t that you are rude!