“Networking” for undergrad scientists

By Will Barr

NetworkingDo scientists need to network? If you talk to any researcher, whether they are in grad school, beginning a postdoc or a tenured professor, they will tell you that networking, or some form of it, is key to doing good science.

I know what you are thinking, and I am with you. Like you, I didn’t get into molecular biology for the people. I am here for the pure, beautiful science. I am here for the cathartic restreaking of transformation plates. I am here for the glorious solitary time on the microscope.

Don’t get me wrong; people are great! I really like them, but it is hard for me to think of people as the central part of my career when there is all this science to do. And that is why I don’t. I think of “networking” as friend making of a slightly different form—professional relationship building. Because I am an undergrad at a small liberal arts college, everyone in my lab and in my classes are people I am likely to encounter in less professional settings. I work with my friends.

So, “networking” becomes so much easier when it feels like I’m genuinely trying to get to know someone and their passions. When I went to the Beckman Symposium this past summer, I spoke with my peers about their lives outside of research, the roots of their passions, and their funniest memories of college so far. This meant that it was easier for me to engage with and relate to the researchers being showcased at the symposium. It also made it easier for me to ask for introductions to mentors and other contacts.

The point of networking is not to seek out people who will somehow wave magic wands and make your highly-specific dream come true. The point is to build relationships with a large pool of friendly and dependable people. Seeing networking as professional friend-making helps foster more genuine relationships. The moment your “networking” ventures become disingenuous, your relationships immediately become fleeting and unreliable.

When you’re worried about finding a lab where you can do your graduate work or finding a co-founder for your new bioprinting startup, you want to tap relationships that are genuine. So nix the “networking” label and start making professional friends.

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