Networking in Academia

Whether you love it or hate it, networking throughout our PhDs is something we’re told to do. This post features some tips and advice from researchers on how to make it a little easier.

The word ‘networking’ isn’t exactly a pleasant word for everyone. When I read it, over-eager LinkedIn profiles pop into my head. Invitations to ‘connect’ that don’t feel quite sincere. Awkward encounters at conferences where we’re all crammed into one, ill-fitting room and faced with a choice: eat, or network without the constant fear there’s spinach in your teeth.

Starting from the moment we begin our academic careers, the importance of networking is certainly not understated. From emails announcing workshops detailing how, exactly, to form meaningful connections with other humans to ‘speed networking’ sessions that physically force you into it right there and then, it’s clear it’s something we must get on board with.

Although physical networking events aren’t possible right now due to the small matter of a global pandemic, I asked a variety of PhD researchers to share their tips on networking so we can all do so with confidence when this is all over – as well as digitally networking right now. I’ll also be launching a new blog series that might be able to help with the digital side of things. Details are at the end of this post.

In the spirit of networking, I posed these questions to members of the academic community from any discipline and location, as opposed to just arts and humanities and/or Scottish students like in previous posts. Here’s what they had to say.

Don’t Be Intimidated

When you’re in the room with the academic you have, at some point, fanatically referenced throughout at least one assignment it’s difficult to feel like you can approach them. But Stevie Marsden (Research Associate at CAMEo and Lecturer at the University of  Derby) says you shouldn’t be put off going to speak to them. “Senior and well-known academics are just people, and I’ve found they’re normally very excited to hear about new research in the field!”

Christina Kenny (Technological University Dublin) echoes this sentiment. “I think people overthink networking a lot and kind of treat it like a job interview,” she explains. “Approach it in a more relaxed way – you don’t need to immediately impress anyone!”

To Business card or not to Business card?

“The thought of getting a business card makes me cringe so much my soul could leave my body,” Katie Hill (University of Central Lancaster) exclaims. I think it’s fair to say that many of us share Katie’s sentiments. “But I think they could be useful,” she adds, posing the question many of us grapple with – are business cards really worth it?

“Cards can feel cringey,” Cath Kennedy (University of Sheffield) offers, “but I’ve just dug out a couple from an event 2 years ago, so they were worth having!”

Nicole Brandon (University of Dundee) believes they’re especially useful for those of us who work with industry partners in our research. “If you work with industry partners, do fieldwork, build networks outside of Academia etc., I’d definitely recommend it. Name, Uni, Email, PhD Title/Research Area. Set of 50. Done!”

Digital Networking

Usually, digital networking advice is fairly repetitive. ‘Join Twitter chats’, ‘do up your profiles’, ‘find a balance between professional and personal’, and so on. It sounds exhausting and like something you need to monitor constantly, but taking the same ‘casual’ approach to networking as discussed in the first section can really help you discover the additional benefits of putting yourself and your work out there into the social networking realm. Rio Matchett (University of Liverpool) sums it up perfectly: “Honestly, I have done 95% of my meaningful networking on Twitter. Commenting on people’s ideas, asking questions, retweeting, replying in solidarity. Truthfully, my advice would just be to follow everyone you can find, follow some good hashtags, search for people, etc.

“It’s also important to make space to connect with these people on non-academic topics. Some of my most meaningful academic relationships have come from a shared love of cat pictures, memes… Remember that networking is about forming genuine relationships which should better both parties, and be enjoyable. It’s not just connecting with people in the hopes of advancing your own work.”

As well as this, social media is full of great academic communities – see our previous post for more details.

Enter SGSAH 

On that note, this month I’ll be launching the ‘5 Minutes With…” blog series, featuring quick-fire interviews with fellow arts and humanities researchers in Scotland. This will be a chance for other researchers to learn about what you do and hopefully lead to new connections. If you’ve wanted to get involved with the blog to talk about your research but don’t have the time to write an entire post, this would be perfect for you. Get in touch if you’d like to be involved:

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