Let me tell you a story. Last Friday, I escaped my daily routine and hopped a plane to Vail, Colorado. By 1:45 pm I was on the gondola heading up to the top of the mountain. Seated next to me was a fellow skier, helmet and goggles on, on a similar mission to reach the top of the mountain. The gondola ride is about eight minutes long, so we start chatting about the scenery, the snow conditions, and as the minutes pass, about our lives. He says he is a doctor in a hospital in Africa. We talk about science and the state of the world in general, and in passing he mentions his predominant work is surgery to help rape victims, and well, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for that. Guess what, my seat mate is Doctor Denis Mukwege, a person who has changed the lives of thousands of women in Africa by helping them heal. How cool is that?
Would you consider that networking?
I do, and let me tell you why: networking is the act of making meaningful connections with other people. My 8 minute interaction with Dr. Mukwege gave me insight into his passion for his work and his personality. Reading all of the articles about him when he won the Nobel Prize in 2018, I never knew we shared a love of Vail, Colorado. Will I ever see him again? I don’t know, but if I get an opportunity to support his work, I will be more likely to do so because I made a connection with him.
Networking as a scientist can be a lot like my gondola ride. If you are at a conference, the likelihood is that you have something in common with the person sitting next to you. Start the conversation about the presentation you both listened to, and if the conversation flows freely, you will naturally begin discussing who you are and what you do. You make a connection that can be a foundation for a bigger relationship.
Networking does not have to rely on happenstance though. Here are some tips to make your networking efforts pay off:
- Do your homework. Scientists are good at research. If you are attending a meeting or conference on a specific subject, be prepared to discuss it. Also research the people on the attendee list. Identify who you would like to meet. Do you have anything in common with them– same alma mater, research field, or people you have both worked with? Look up their professional profiles online so you know what they look like and what they do.
- When you get to the event, smile and relax. Focus on the information people are giving you. People love to talk about themselves and their work. Ask people what interests them about the meeting, or ask if their work relates to the presentation. Later, once you have established a rapport, you can share your name. Try to get a business card or share vcards if you enjoy your conversation.
- Follow up. When you return to your office, send an email or note related to your discussion or invite your contact to take part in some activity that is a common interest. The idea is to build a relationship with another person.
- Look for opportunities to network while doing things you are passionate about. For example, if you are a runner, attend running events your university or company sponsors; join groups to pursue common interests, like birding, hiking, diving, camping or book clubs; if you are a parent, get to know the other parents at your child’s activities.
- Practice. If you are introverted or socially awkward, it can be hard to talk to strangers. Start with events and places where you feel comfortable or which are designed to help people improve networking skills. For example, here is a list of networking opportunities you might want to check out in Tampa Bay this month:
- 500 Women Scientists Profile http://bit.ly/2FUSyD6
- Marine Scientist Happy Hour – March 21 at Trophy Fish 5pm to 7pm, located at 2060 Central Ave St Pete 33712.
- Salty Topics: Florida SeaGrant Spring Speaker Series at Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center 1800 Weedon Dr NE St. Petersburg, Florida 33702. April Event: http://bit.ly/2H9h7gM
- RTIC Networking lunch and learn – Keep an eye on our events calendar for upcoming events http://bit.ly/2UuVTgk
- If you are interested in technology: WITI Event @ Microsoft http://bit.ly/2HphP8Z
- If you are interested in digital marketing/data science http://bit.ly/2UAPC33
- Mote Marine Laboratory Special Lecture Series: Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s WAVE Center, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL, 34236. Mondays at 6:30 PM
March 11 – Dr. Rob Nowicki, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Mote: “Building a better mousetrap: Hijacking shark biology and behavior to reduce bycatch in Caribbean lobster traps”
March 18 – Dr. Rich Pierce, Program Manager for Mote’s Ecotoxicology Program: “Red tide: What is it and what can we do about it?”
March 25 – Gretchen Lovewell, Program Manager for Mote’s Stranding Investigation Program: “Red tide’s toll on marine animals: Stories from Mote’s Stranding Investigation Program