Wednesday, December 3, 2014

SfN14 blogging: Careers Beyond the Bench: The Importance of Face-to-Face Networking When Considering a Career Transition

Face-to-face networking is still 
important even in this digital age. 
(Photo by jairoagua)
Most current PhD students grew up with the internet and embrace social networking online on at least one platform. It’s comfortable to reach out to strangers in the vast expanse of the internet because their profile and status updates assure you there is already a connection between you. Dr. Rae Nishi, a professor of Neurological Sciences at the University of Vermont emphasized the importance of face-to-face networking in addition to online networking. In order to do face-to-face networking well, some prep work is needed.

Dr. Nishi says, when you are considering a career transition, “know thyself”. Think deeply about what you want and do not want to do as well as what you are good at doing. An Individual Development Plan is a great way to accomplish this task. Next, create an elevator pitch for your target career. Why are you, specifically, qualified for it and why will you be successful? Finally, make sure to build and use your support team. You’ll need people to critique you and your application materials each step of the way and people who will support you emotionally. Now you can start networking!

Identify contacts you already have, in person and online. Reach out to the people around you: your family, friends, and colleagues and see if they know others in your career of interest. Also, contact people you know online or people you previously connected with on LinkedIn. Make sure to network strategically. Once you have decided what you want to do, focus on networking with people who can get you there. Attend events and meet-ups with people in the career field you are interested in. Instead of just handing out business cards and asking for a job or connection, take time to get to know them; be interested in what they do and how they do it. 

Once connections have been made, make sure to follow-up. Sometimes this is an email or just reintroducing yourself and shaking their hand next time you see them. Dr. Nishi says, "The whole process of strategic networking takes time, so you must be patient". 

And, of course, it's important to be friendly and respectful to everyone you meet because you never know who is connected to whom. A connection that does not seem important now may be the one you need in the future.  For example, one friend of Dr. Nishi's transitioned from academic scientist to medical writer through a connection from a former student. 

Dr. Nishi also recommended the book Repurpose Your Career by Mark Miller. While it was written for the baby boomer generation, she says the information is highly valuable to anyone looking to change careers. 

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