Group of people networking at an event

December 18, 2020, by Abigail Rowse

Growing Your Network as a PhD Student

By Dr Harry Hothi, co-founder of DiscoverPhDs

The term networking can sometimes feel like another buzzword used in the job market. Actually, networking as a PhD student can have a real positive impact on your development. It is something every student should make the time to do.

What actually is networking?

Networking is a skill to be developed. It’s all about building genuine, meaningful connections with people at all levels within (and outside of) your research field. A network is a mutually beneficial community that you build that you build for yourself where you exchange support, advice and inspiration.

What are the benefits?

Research is, by its very nature, built on collaboration. When you integrate yourself into a network of like-minded researchers working on similar projects, a number of opportunities may arise. This could be finding a professor who can give you access to the specialist analysis equipment you need or a fellow PhD student who brings fresh ideas to your research. Equally, you may be able to work with another researcher to raise funding together or write joint papers.

Looking beyond your PhD, your network can help create opportunities that develop your long-term career. This could be getting a position with an industry contact or finding a post-doc job with the research group you met at your last conference.

So how do you go about networking? Check out a few of my tips below.

Where to start growing your network

At the time of writing, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual or online options are likely to be the most practical forum. I would, however, usually recommend attending a few conferences each year as the best place to meet new researchers. These events can be a fantastic way to connect with other like-minded people on a professional level. This could be during the main conference events, but may also be socially during post-talk dinners.

Host your networking event

There’s nothing stopping you from organising your own event and inviting other PhD students to discuss projects and ideas. This could be as simple as a group call where everyone gives a short presentation followed by a moderated discussion. Alternatively, you could book a lecture room in the university and invite researchers to attend (when safe to do so). You may need to apply for small funding support to help you run the event, which can be fantastic experience to include on your CV.

Online options

LinkedIn and ResearchGate are useful tools for connecting with academics around the world. However, you only get out of these what you put in. If you only ‘add’ them and then don’t interact with them, expect little to come from it. Instead, try to engage with their posts, make contributions of your own and become an active member of the community. Twitter can also be effective; check out the prominent hashtags #PhDadvice, #AcademicTwitter and #PhDchat to find other researchers to interact with.

Final points

Finally, a few other thoughts to consider:

  • Networking can feel daunting at first, especially when you approach senior professors at conferences. This is normal! Start small, learn what works for you and take it from there.
  • Stay in touch with your network, even just to say hello or congratulate them on a new paper they’ve published. Don’t just get in contact when you need help from them!
  • Make sure you network with researchers at all levels, not just other PhD students.
  • Don’t forget about your peers from your lab during your networking journey; networking horizontally is just as important as networking vertically.

Don’t forget that your University’s Careers team has tailored support for PhD students. To continue with your networking journey, read our top tips for successful networking.

Posted in PhD StudentsStudent Bloggers