Networking to create opportunities: tips from a graduate student

Reposted with permission from Re-Spect Science

If you are pursuing a master’s or a doctoral degree like me, we tend to treat our graduate studies like a full-time job. Although universities do as much as they can, I feel that it is our job as graduate students to gain experience beyond what is provided with the university and the requirements of the degree, to get more out of our graduate program. Yes, publications do look impressive and are high-priority, but in reality, it is about who knows who. Today’s post is about what will help: NETWORKING.

(I know you really weren’t surprised since it’s in the title of my blog!)

So outside of your thesis and science bubble, I’ve made a check-list of ways to get more out of your graduate program or if you want to simply expand your professional network. Some I have learned through personal experiences and others through a Mitacs Networking workshop hosted by Dr. Jennifer Gardy (follow her tweets at @jennifergardy).

1. Serve on an executive board, a student group or student council to build your portfolio

This shows potential employers that you have leadership qualities and have skills that go beyond your research. It promotes interaction with other scientists who aren’t related to your research directly, but may become future collaborators.

2. Attend student networking events

Meet students outside of your research scope. Be personable and genuinely converse with other attendees. It’s important to have a broad exposure to different scientific backgrounds. These events could also promote collaborative work in the future: perhaps writing a review with someone in a related field or performing certain experiments to get authorship on future publications. The scientific community is full of many people with similar interests and connections so don’t be afraid to make it work for you.

3. Create a social media presence to disseminate your work

Yes, scientists are embracing the social scene. There are multiple avenues to use:

  • ResearchGate is a great way to showcase your research publications and productivity during your graduate training, almost like a digital CV. It is useful in engaging with other scientists and requesting their publications. It also documents how many times your own research papers get cited and the number of reads/downloads.
  • LinkedIn can also display your qualifications and publications, but your profile gets exposure to industry or institutions. It’s key to follow certain companies you may be interested in working for and it’s also a great way for them to notice you. A recent trend with big companies is that they use sites like LinkedIn to scout for future positions instead of posting job online. Another way to connect with others is to “Endorse” certain skills; this can further strengthen your profile based on people who “Endorse” you back.
  • Twitter is a useful platform in promoting or communicating your research to the general public and engaging in debate over certain topics. I like to use tweets to engage in scientific discussion that I can follow up through LinkedIn, which is a more professional scene for networking. Twitter is also useful for live-tweeting at scientific conferences using hashtags, such as #respectscience, and serves as a great way to reach out to visiting scientists or to reach out at us.

If you aren’t social media-savvy, I would highly recommend LinkedIn and Research Gate to showcase your research publications and scientific progress.

4. Business/contact cards

So if you have been networking, you might have met someone who has perks at a print shop. But like most of us, that probably isn’t the case. Here are two types of business cards that I think are worth looking into:

  • Institution affiliation: inquire within your university/department where you can get business cards printed (if you’re lucky, your supervisor might just cover the printing costs). Include the usual: name, title, email, phone — information affiliated with your institution/lab. These are great for handing out to scientists at conferences and networking events. Writing your poster number on the back is also another way to attract them to your research if there’s no time to show them.
  • Personal Brand: look into websites such as VistaPrint or, where you can create personal business cards that can highlight your positions outside the lab (i.e., executive board member, student group, your blog). Although you may change institutions throughout your career, you will still be able to use these cards. They are useful for handing out at student networking events and to showcase what you do outside your research.

The type of business/contact card you hand out will depend on the event setting and the type of conversation you have with whom you hand the card to.

One important item I would like to address would be to separate your professional and personal life on social media. I would recommend using your real name for professional websites/social media platforms, and then an alternative alias name for personal social media websites. Take a second to Google your name to see what you are associated with, as potential employers may do the same.

In summary, don’t let your graduate training be just about collecting and analyzing experimental/clinical data (yes, I know that it is still important). It should be about creating opportunities for yourself that aren’t otherwise taught in a classroom or lab/clinical setting.

Register for workshops on networking or on science communication skills, as these will improve your poster or oral presentations at conferences. Along with your CV/resume, getting a faculty position or a job at a company might be through the network you have created.

Wajihah Mughal is a doctoral student at the University of Manitoba’s Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Science. She’s also the co-founder of Re-Spect Science, a blog dedicated to capturing how science affects our everyday lives. Connect with Wajihah on Twitter at @Spidey_Cell.


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