Networking – benefits for young researchers

Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Career, PhD | No Comments

This blog post is principally written for the PhD students who attended the SULSA Young Scientists’ Event in May 2013. However, the links and themes will be relevant to any researcher interested in developing their networking, collaborative and communication skills. This is the first post which will focus on networking.

I’ve previously blogged on the approach I take to networking (this includes my thoughts on starting conversations), but at the event we discussed the benefits and challenges for research students. I think this is an essential first step for the reluctant networker – working out what the benefits could be. Three stand out from my PhD

  1. meeting someone who we were considering as an external examiner (he didn’t like our work, so we thought again and I was spared a viva that would have been particularly challenging)
  2. explaining a problem I had fabricating samples with a research engineer, who solved it in about 35 seconds (and sent me the spacer material through the post a week later)
  3. learning about other meetings that were potentially more valuable (I was a bit of an outlier in my research group, so it wasn’t obvious which meetings were right for my interests)

It probably helped hugely that I had to go to conferences on my own – if you go with your group try to spend as much time as possible away from them!

The SULSA students came up with a lot of positive reasons to develop networking skills – hopefully there’s something here to convince you to overcome your reticence and find ways to network more effectively.

Networking benefits research –

  • talking about your work helps you to understand it
  • you hear about funding streams you might not be aware of
  • you can share problems and challenges rather than getting stuck
  • you can hear about things others have done that haven’t worked (as these rarely appear in the literature)
  • learn about different tools or approaches that might benefit your work
  • help answering technical problems
  • access to facilities or materials
  • have novel or creative ideas from discussions
  • of specific benefit to viva preparation:
  • access to constructive criticism
  • fresh perspectives from outside your group
  • hear about new opportunities – vacancies in other groups, jobs in related fields, other conferences and meetings, prizes, internships,
  • share your skills

Networking benefits you and your career

  • talking about your work makes people aware of what you are doing (and the fact YOU are doing it)
  • learning about yourself (reflecting on what you enjoy talking about, who you engage with most positively)
  • learning about other opportunities (vacancies in other groups)
  • learning about alternative paths to research or academia
  • build your contacts
  • find potential mentors
  • get careers advice
  • gain confidence about communication your research, connecting with people

As a platform for longer-term enhancement

  • knowledge exchange
  • meeting potential future collaborators
  • develop relationships with other sectors which could enhance impact activities
  • opportunities for travelling/secondments abroad

A final note for this post – networking shouldn’t  just be about asking people for help, so this isn’t intended to give you a checklist to take to any conference, ruthlessly rejecting people who don’t offer anything useful! Rather, this post is to help to get motivated to engage and start looking for opportunities.

Two links to blog posts that might help you take this thinking further:

6 secrets to better networking at conferences

Conference social skills


And a final link from my friend Paul Spencer about the Matthew Effect. To quote this article, “a term coined by Robert Merton to describe how, among other things, eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar; it also means that credit will usually be given to researchers who are already famous”. Networking as a young researcher begins to build your visibility and reputation.

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