An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui

So you’re an introvert working in academia. Striking up a conversation with people you don’t know well isn’t your forte. But networking is that niggling activity you know you should be engaging in to progress professionally. Not all is lost. You can grow and sustain a network of contacts without being the most outspoken person in the room.

For many of us, the term ‘networking’ invokes an image of a large auditorium brimming with strangers. While opportunities to network often do present themselves in the form of busy events, there is scope to develop your network in smaller, less intimidating settings.

Who do you already know? And who do they know?

Consider who you already know – both professionally and personally. Now give some thought to the people they know who you could benefit from meeting. Does one of your colleagues sit on a committee with an expert in your field who if you met could spark off a collaboration?  Is your tennis partner friends with the spouse of someone in a role you’re interested in exploring? The relationships between the people you know and those you want to know might be a bit more long-winded and complex! But once you’ve identified a few people in your contacts’ networks, ask your colleague/friend/family member to introduce you over a coffee or email. Meeting someone new via an introduction or in the company of an existing friend or colleague often eases some of the pressure from that initial conversation. Approach your first coffee or email with points for why it would be valuable for that person to have you on their radar as well.

 Build your Network Informally  

Getting to know others outside the constraints of structured work scenarios, in more informal settings, can feel more intuitive. Take advantage of after-work drinks, office parties, or other social activities in your department/faculty. The potential to network isn’t confined to the workplace – Get involved with volunteering or join a Meetup group that runs activities you’re interested in. People at these events are often there with a similar purpose – to meet others, and are likely to be friendly and approachable. And the diverse range of people you encounter might present a job opportunity or a new perspective on your research.

Surviving the Packed Auditorium Scenario

The nature of working in academia means that sometimes being in packed auditoriums is inevitable. While walking up to someone you’ve never seen before and introducing yourself might feel unnatural in most day-to-day situations, it’s the norm in conferences, lectures, and even workshops. Most people you approach will be receptive and happy to reciprocate by telling you about themselves. If you struggle with introducing yourself, prepare in advance. Jot down the key points you want to share about yourself and practice saying them aloud until you can deliver your introduction fluidly.  The chances are that some of the people you meet might even feel as awkward as you! Get out of your own head and consider what you can do to make your exchange comfortable and worthwhile for both of you.

If there are specific people you’re interested in meeting, consider why you’d like to meet them and prepare questions around those interests that you can ask them. Contacting them in advance and inviting them for coffee at the conference can also make it easier to avoid vying for attention with others equally enthusiastic about meeting your potential new collaborator.

Lastly, Susan Cain, who delivered the TED talk, The Power of Introverts, imparts some valuable advice on networking for introverts, including how to handle busy events, in this video.

Professional Futures 16 November 2016 – How to be a Successful Networker

Written by Donald Lush 

Our speaker:

Dr Triona Bolger, whose PhD was in Craniofacial Developmental Biology, is now a Managing Consultant in the Life Science Practice at Navigant Consulting with a strong interest in EU/Emerging Market commercial strategy for both speciality and big pharma.

Here are Triona’s top thoughts about networking and how to be a successful networker:

  1. Words that come to mind when thinking about networking:
  • Elevator pitch
  • Selling yourself
  • Awkward forced conversation
  • Schmoozing
  • Working a room
  • Speed dating.
  1. All of these things can seem like barriers to a useful conversation.
  2. Networking is nothing more than making connections with people – be interested, be present and be honest. Talk openly about the things that you are passionate about, ask engaging questions and truly listen to the answers. People seek connections and respond well to honest and open conversations.
  3. Networking shouldn’t mean that you are false or behave in a manner that isn’t yourself – this comes across as fake and people will close off .
  4. The purpose of networking varies so try and be open to opportunities – you may be looking for a new flat mate, funding, a job, inspiration, a collaborator and many other things.
  5. You can network anywhere – the residents lounge of your building, at parties, sports, on-line, on a flight.
  6. Generally, I don’t network with purpose, I just try to pay attention to who people are and chat, but this is my approach. Others need to be more studied and others are more gregarious.
  7. Be true to yourself – if you aren’t outgoing and able to introduce yourself, then don’t go to events where you have to put yourself out there. Work out a networking style that works for you.
  8. Identify your ‘party personality’ – are you the centre of the party? Are you holding up the wall, are you chatting in the kitchen in a smaller group, are you making yourself useful clearing up after other? Know yourself and find ways to talk to people that work for you
  9. What do you want to be known for? What do you need / want to know about others? Try to work out your answers to the following:
  • Do you have to be purposeful vs. passive?
  • What is your story?
  • Who is the other person?
  1. Keep in touch with the connections you make through messages, emails or personal contact.

The Power of Online Social Networks

Written by Dr Amy Birch

You’re working late again on a project that seems to be throwing up more questions than answers. Your colleagues in your department, faculty, or university do not have the expertise you need to solve one of the more pressing problems. You’re sure that someone in your field surely must have come across the same problem – but how do find out who they are?

Academia has become a truly global enterprise, with expertise and specialist knowledge coming from across the planet. In fact, as universities have become larger and larger, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up to date with the whereabouts of colleagues in your field, even within the same city.

It is no surprise therefore, that academic social networking sites have exploded. Academia.edu and ResearchGate boast over 36 and 11 million users, respectively. These numbers pale in comparison to Facebook’s 1.79 billion and Twitter’s 313 million active users, but are pretty impressive when you take into account that only researchers can join. ResearchGate has been described as a “mashup of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn”; you can follow subject areas or other users, join specialists groups, publish your peer-reviewed papers, write short reviews on others’ papers, and, perhaps the most widely utilised tool, pose research questions for other users to help you find the answer. Ijad Madisch, one of the founders of ResearchGate, argues that this tool has enabled hundreds, if not thousands, of active collaborations leading to published research in peer-reviewed journals.

Additionally, both Academia.edu (which is more specifically a site to share papers and review research) and ResearchGate provide tools to measure your own impact, via scores which calculate the number of followers you have and downloads of your papers, and both websites do very well in Google search results which means that people searching for a particular paper on your area of expertise are more likely to find your paper if it has been uploaded into your profile.

While these two sites currently have the most active users, there are a number of other websites that are increasing in popularity. These include Zotero and Mendeley, which both started as bibliographic software but also boast online forums and private messaging tools, and LinkedIn, now as equally associated with blogging and online groups/forums as its more traditional job seeking/posting service.

At this point I’m hoping that I haven’t lost you in a blind panic about all the new sites you need to be using and, crucially, keeping up-to-date. Certainly, there has been an explosion in online tools to support professional networking in the ever-increasingly ‘connected’ world. However, it is important to make sure that the sites you are using are appropriate for your needs. This is where some research of your own is needed – find the websites that have the highest proportion of people that you want to network with, who are interested in the same subject areas as you, and who will be interested in your expertise. For example, LinkedIn is really great if you are looking for a move beyond academia as you can connect with people who may be in a profession you are aspiring to; however, posting your most recent academic paper on LinkedIn will not have the same impact as posting it on Academia.edu. This may even be a smaller, more subject-specific social networking site. When I was postdoc, “Alzforum” was the place to go for the most recent news about trials, published papers, jobs, and discussions in my own field of neurodegenerative diseases.

Finally, if you really want to make an impact – it’s not enough to be on the sites, not even enough to keep your profile updated. As with networking in real-life, you have to SAY SOMETHING. Make a comment on a paper you found interesting or start a conversation with a colleague you’ve always admired but never felt confident enough to approach at conferences. Start making connections, and you’ll soon have a rich, varied, and talented online network of peers.

5 Reasons Networking is a Great Idea

Written by Dr Nigel Eady

Networking is a bit like Marmite – you love it or you hate it! Yet, if you really want to progress, in almost every walk of life, it’s absolutely invaluable. Hear me out, even if you’re getting sweaty palms and starting to hyperventilate just at the thought of having to talk to someone you don’t know!

1. Stay at the forefront. Networks allow you to keep your finger on the pulse. What new funding scheme has been launched? Who is looking for collaborators? Which         interesting seminars are happening? Your network will help you know what’s going on.

2. Find effective solutions. None of us have a monopoly on creativity. If you maintain a broad network you will be able to tap into a wealth of experience, knowledge and ingenuity, especially when problems arise.

3. Discover career options. Many jobs are never advertised on the open market. If you have an effective network, you significantly increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time to seize those opportunities.

4. Give as well as receive. The fastest way to grow your network is to be helpful to people. When you then need help yourself, you’re much more likely to find someone who’s willing to help you out.

5. Develop your confidence. Making the active choice to cultivate your networks is time well spent. Over time, your confidence will increase and you’ll become a more natural communicator.

If like me, you need time on our own, then networking can easily stay at the bottom of your ‘to do’ list, although some extroverts still need encouragement to network. Remember your networks don’t have to be huge. Start small. Cultivate a few connections with people whose backgrounds, skills and attributes you value, and who complement your own skills. I promise you that, in time, you’ll be glad you made the effort.