Networking for scientists: An opportunity, not a waste of time

by Joseph Provost, Ph.D.,  Minnesota State University Moorhead

RoadWe have all attended meetings with evening “networking” sessions conveniently scheduled around the time when all you want to do is get some fresh air and take a break from the convention center.  When I was new to the profession and ready to take on the world, I saw social and networking events as a waste of time.  Over the years, I have heard students and faculty say similar things: “What is in it for me?” or “This is going to be boring, Dr. P, do I have to?”.   The answer is that these events are opportunities.   Professional and personal networking is critical for personal and professional success.

The business world is filled with advice  for building networks.  Talk to any entrepreneur and they will tell you that their network is crucial for finding mentors, advisors, investors and customers.  For scientists, networking can also provide opportunities.  Even for undergraduates, networking with peers and faculty will get you noticed.  Those times during a poster presentation, when the corner table is calling to you to sit down and text a friend instead of visiting with other students and faculty (many of whom may be looking for graduate recruits or sit on admissions committees for graduate schools) are wasted opportunities.  Faculty remember those conversations when deciding who to admit into their research labs.   During discussions for awards and certainly when employers or professional schools ask for interns or for recommendations for jobs.  A simple professional and friendly conversation is a great tool to build your network and help advance your career.

Whether you’re in graduate school or an early to mid-career scientist, networking can provide unexpected opportunities.  The saying that “it is who you know” should be combined with “fortune smiles on the prepared mind” to reflect that networking creates opportunities for those ready to take advantage of them.  The smartest and brightest person will not flourish on their own.  Contacts and friendships create opportunities for scientists.  One of my biggest breaks came at a Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) meeting when I met Ellis Bell, now Professor of Chemistry at the University of Richmond.  I was inspired by his talk at the PKAL meeting on research and undergraduates, so during a networking session, I engaged Bell in conversation.  We exchanged contacts and soon after that, I was tapped by Bell to work on projects that engage ASBMB members to improve undergraduate education and research.  I benefited both personally and professionally from making that contact.

The following are a list of MUST DO’s for networking:

  1. Be positive and set professional and personal goals.
  2. Have an elevator speech ready of your research and career goals.
  3. Be genuine and authentic in your interactions.  Building trust is a way that someone else may think of you the next time they are looking to fill a committee slot or find a reviewer for a grant or paper or even a job!
  4. Be willing to be mentored.  I have been fortunate to have several mentors. , one person, Kathy Parsons, is someone that I knew but during networking sessions our conversation grew during several networking sessions and she has become one of my close advisors.
  5. As you become more established, you must also honor the networking code and mentor and support those around you.  Become a resource and help others find their way.
  6. Follow-up.  A simple email or connection through a networking website is a great way to touch base with someone you’ve just met.  I write a note on the back of business cards and make a point to email each person within a week after meeting.

Richard Branson, founder and creator of Virgin Music and Virgina Air writes on networking to do it early and often.  In the seventies Branson built Virgin Music informally using the backs of napkins for contacts.  These days networking is much easier with Linkedin and other social media platforms.  However, Branson encourages making connections and building networks by attending industry events and meeting key players.

You will find those who align with your personal and professional interests at ASBMB meetings.  There are many opportunities throughout the Annual Experimental Biology (EB) meeting, and ASBMB also hosts several special symposia each year.  The ASBMB UAN was founded with a mission to create, grow and support networks of faculty and students. In 2012, the UAN directors have begun to host a networking social hour for all UAN faculty advisors at EB.  The event was a hit in San Diego last year, and we are looking forward to engaging the UAN community this year in 2013 in Boston.

For information on networking opportunities at the 2013 ASBMB Annual Meeting, visit www.asbm.borg/meeting2013.

6 thoughts on “Networking for scientists: An opportunity, not a waste of time

  1. Dr. Provost offers some very good advice for everyone, from undergraduates to faculty or professional scientists working for industry. For undergraduates and graduate students it is very important to develop your interpersonal skills and not be afraid to engage scientists in a conversation at professional meetings, or scientists visiting your department for a seminar. Many undergraduates would be surprised to find that many of the “big name” scientists at these meetings are very happy to talk to undergraduates and one never knows where those conversations might lead in the future. Regrettably, while some advisers are very good at introducing their students, some are very poor at fulfilling this task.

  2. Dr. Provost offers some very good advice for everyone, from undergraduates to faculty or professional scientists working for industry. For undergraduates and graduate students it is very important to develop your interpersonal skills and not be afraid to engage scientists in a conversation at professional meetings, or scientists visiting your department for a seminar. Many undergraduates would be surprised to find that many of the “big name” scientists at these meetings are very happy to talk to undergraduates and one never knows where those conversations might lead in the future. Regrettably, while some advisers are very good at introducing their students, some are very poor at fulfilling this task.

  3. Dr. Provost offers some very good advice for everyone, from undergraduates to faculty or professional scientists working for industry. For undergraduates and graduate students it is very important to develop your interpersonal skills and not be afraid to engage scientists in a conversation at professional meetings, or scientists visiting your department for a seminar. Many undergraduates would be surprised to find that many of the “big name” scientists at these meetings are very happy to talk to undergraduates and one never knows where those conversations might lead in the future. Regrettably, while some advisers are very good at introducing their students, some are very poor at fulfilling this task.

  4. Thank you Dr. Provost for the very useful advice. Problem is, I am a bit shy; but now I am inspired and will try developing networks.

  5. Thank you Dr. Provost for the very useful advice. Problem is, I am a bit shy; but now I am inspired and will try developing networks.

  6. Thank you Dr. Provost for the very useful advice. Problem is, I am a bit shy; but now I am inspired and will try developing networks.

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