Many scientists enjoy working alone—toiling away to form hypotheses, collect data, and conduct experiments. The notion of “networking”—which to many means sharing awkward, superficial conversations with a room full of strangers—can be highly off-putting and stressful.
Although it may feel uncomfortable and seem difficult to justify spending time making small talk, it’s important that scientists make it a priority to do so in order to build meaningful connections with those around them. Your network can open many doors that no amount of good bench work could. Keep reading to understand why networking is such a critical component of career success in the biotechnology industry, and learn proven networking tips for scientists to help you advance in your career.
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Why Scientists Should Learn to Network Effectively
Science Is Collaborative
As much as many scientists would like to be able to do everything on their own, no one (nope, not even you!) can accomplish every scientific achievement on their own. In fact, these days, very few scientific advances are made in isolation. Collaboration is critical to innovation and good science, particularly as new technologies require increased cross-functional work between researchers in different disciplines.
Additionally, outside perspectives can be highly valuable when you inevitably hit a project roadblock at some point in your career. New ideas and hypotheses are frequently inspired by conversations among scientists.
Soft Skills Are Crucial to Industry Success
Numerous studies show that interpersonal skills matter more than technical skills no matter the profession. Jared Auclair, director of Northeastern’s Master of Biotechnology and Bioinformatic programs, agrees.
In today’s world, he says, soft skills are crucial for career success. Employers no longer want only someone who is an expert at the lab bench; rather, they need a well-rounded individual that can articulate and present their findings and ideas in a compelling manner. Networking is just one way to practice and hone your communication skills while establishing key industry relationships.
Developing these meaningful relationships will require a concerted effort, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful endeavor. Networking is simply another skill that takes practice and repetition to master, and once you do, the benefits will be plentiful.
Networks Open Doors and Aid Career Transitions
The numbers don’t lie; networking is a proven and powerful tool for career growth. Studies show that 85 percent of all jobs are filled as a result of networking.
For those working in academia—a very tight-knit group—establishing important connections early in your career can set you up for later career success. Knowing the right people who can direct you to open positions and connect you with individuals looking to hire can be the key to landing your dream role.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to find a job outside of your current sphere, whether industry or academia, these connections can help you transition into the other line of work and offer valuable advice to succeed on the other side of the bench.
Here are five tips to help you expand your network effectively:
Effective Networking Tips for Scientists
Most scientists are aware of the need to build a network, but few give much thought to how they go about building one. Here’s where to start.
1. Adjust Your Perspective
Networking can sound intimidating, but the truth is you already have a network. A network is simply the people you know, and then the contacts of those people.
For many scientists, it can help to look at networking as less shameless self-promotion and more as an opportunity to expand your knowledge base and form mutually beneficial connections with like-minded researchers that may advance your professional objectives. Try viewing networking opportunities as simply a chance to talk with smart, talented, like-minded people in your line of work.
2. Start Small
Start small by tapping into your most accessible connections first. Ask a co-worker to coffee, talk shop over lunch, or make it a point to attend after-work events. These type of low-risk networking activities give you a chance to strengthen your interpersonal communication skills in a slightly more comfortable setting.
Another painless networking approach is to reach out online to other professionals in your industry. LinkedIn and email can be an efficient way to establish and maintain an extended network of people who can help you find a job and advance your career, without initially having to meet face-to-face. It’s important, however, to provide context in your connection requests and personal messages—don’t rely on LinkedIn’s default message, which shows you aren’t willing to take the time to establish a true connection.
3. Join Professional Associations and Social Media Groups
Join professional associations and science-specific social networks, which may provide access to libraries of research articles, as well as useful tools and ideas. And, just as you would in person, make sure to put your most professional foot forward.
When networking via social media, keep your profiles accurate, up-to-date, and complete. (If you’re not sure where to start, try these seven tips to make your LinkedIn profile really stand out among your network.) By including a professional photo, personal summary, and an overview of your skills, your connections will get a better sense of your personality, abilities, and goals, making your connections more meaningful.
4. Attend Industry Events, Conferences, and Poster Presentations
This most likely will require you to step out of your comfort zone. For many, these types of events involving close interaction can be daunting, but the long-term benefits of attending are huge. Start by choosing events where networking is just one portion of the event, rather than the explicit purpose.
Conferences provide a great opportunity to start building your scientific network, which can yield benefits in the form of collaborations, referrals, and access to research or funding. Here are some additional tips to make the most out of these events:
Have a plan. Don’t just show up and expect to make a handful of connections by randomly handing out business cards. Before attending, develop a strategy to help you network effectively. If you’re shy, for example, try to find a colleague or advisor who can join you and may be able to introduce you to others in the field.
Do your homework. Do some research before the event by looking over the list of speakers and participants. Identify key people you want to meet, and consider setting up meetings in advance. If you know you’ll be seeing a particular individual there, make sure to come prepared with questions and/or ideas relevant to the person’s work.
Have your elevator pitch ready. When it’s your turn to introduce yourself, have your “elevator pitch” ready, including the name of your organization, your organization’s product or focus, and the role you play or the research you’re currently working on.
Return the favor. Actively listen, engage in conversation, and ask questions. Remember, networking isn’t just about what other people can do for you, but what you can do for them. Show your network that you’re a valuable contact to have by asking, “How can I help you?” Before requesting anything from them, show your willingness to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. This should come easy; just be your smart, inquisitive self.
Follow up and through. Make sure to follow up within 24 hours of the event to keep the momentum going. An email with a simple “hello” and a short reminder of what the two of you talked about will suffice. If you discussed a particular action item, such as making an introduction or sending along helpful information, follow through on that promise within the same time frame.
5. Keep in Touch with Your Network
As you continue to build your network, it’s important to maintain it by communicating with your connections regularly. Don’t feel like you need to connect on a schedule, but make sure you touch base at least a couple of times a year.
It can be as simple as a LinkedIn note or cordial email, thanking them for an introduction they made or for advice they offered that led to a positive outcome. Or, if you see one of your colleagues mentioned in the news for new research or significant achievement, take advantage of the opportunity to reach out, acknowledge their success, and say “congratulations.”
You can also comment on or tag appropriate individuals in articles your industry connections are sharing, letting them know you’re thinking of them while positioning yourself as a thought leader. Engaging with helpful research or industry content over time will help your connections see you as a key member of the industry and someone worth knowing.
Building a network takes time. The key to good networking is to be open, friendly, and display a genuine interest—showing a little bit of humanity can go a long way. Be persistent in your pursuit of establishing connections and your career will benefit. Every day, we meet people who could potentially be important for our career development. By utilizing these strategies you’ll be able to seize opportunities as they arise.
To learn more about how a Master’s in Biotechnology can improve your soft skills to help advance your career, explore our program page.