Graduate school is not the only place where the importance of networking is emphasised. Often, people say that it’s not necessarily what you do, but who you know. This expression can be a little disheartening, but it highlights the importance of building a strong network in all disciplines.
Personally, the prospect of scientific networking is a little daunting but hopefully, with further exposure and practice, I will feel less like a novice on the block and more of a polished diamond in the field of networking practice. As graduate students, we often get buried in the demands of lab and struggle to find a work-life balance. You may wonder where I am trying to go with this, but after a year struggling to find the perfect balance, I have come to realize the importance of network connections outside the realm of science. In my two years of graduate school, I have only managed to attend one science-specific networking event. If I continue this rate through my graduate school life, the number of scientific networking events will be approximately three over a five-year span! This does not look particularly promising for finding future opportunities and alternative job prospects.
However, upon reflecting on what to write for this post, I have come to realize that despite being a horrible scientific networker, I have found my network within Indianapolis has continued to grow through other mechanisms such as sports and volunteering. Finding life balancing activities has not only provided me with an essential mechanism to unwind from the demands of lab, but also provide new opportunities to find friends which ultimately expands your “network”. I have been surprised with the number of individuals I have met doing other activities who are actively involved in science. Maybe in these instances you are drawn to developing relationships solely to those in science, but I challenge you to consider expanding your network across all fields.
A couple of years ago I was introduced to the concept of the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon”. Yes, we are not celebrities in the Hollywood industry, but I believe the same principles apply to us in the science field. As you expand your network through individuals spanning a broad range of disciplines such as IT, accounting, graphic design, and other healthcare professions just to name a few, you may be surprised on the number of opportunities that come to light because of their connections. For instance, they may be able to direct you towards a suitable personal connection or an open job application that you would have never been able to find by yourself.
So, my take home message from my Indiana experience thus far is this: to expand your network outside the field of science while simultaneously reaping the rewards of finding new friends in stress relieving activities.