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networking in grad school


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just finished meeting with adviser about some stuff. one thing that came up is how certain people in the department get by with more funding, higher salary, and yet produce less than we do. I hate to speculate, but I suspect the difference between our groups is our levels of commitment to networking with people. I imagine this to be true when writing grant proposals too (which we struggle with), where your proposals are more likely approved by someone with whom you have some kind of social capital. Right now, I'm starting to realize that science is a lot of politics, and how you play your cards with people may have vast implications on your success as a scientist, not just your work.

What's your guys' experience been with respect to things you do outside the lab that was beneficial to your science career? share your stories.

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27 minutes ago, spectastic said:

Right now, I'm starting to realize that science is a lot of politics, and how you play your cards with people may have vast implications on your success as a scientist, not just your work.

Surprise! This is how life works, not only in academia. In any job, it's not always the most diligent or productive employee who gets the promotion or credit for some work, more often than not it's the one who does the best job promoting themselves and networking. That's as true in academia as anywhere else. You're more likely to be invited to give talks, considered for jobs, awarded grants, cited, have your work assigned in seminars, etc. if your name comes to mind when people think of relevant people in your field. And that's more likely to happen if you put yourself out there and network. There is also a lot of politics that goes into all of these things that goes far beyond just networking (like who advised who, who went to what institution, whose student was admitted to which schools, who cited whose work, and so forth), so politics isn't just about who you know. So yes, you have to do a certain level of good work, but beyond that you also need to sell it (and yourself) and know how to position yourself correctly in your field. It's as important, if not more so, than the work itself. 

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Although I'm not in the sciences, networking is certainly beneficial, if not essential. People I've networked with have come to find me when they hear about funding opportunities, as well as to put in good words for me with their friends at other institutions. I even heard second hand that my name has been bandied around at full-blown conferences between professors, which was pretty surreal.

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Networking is definitely important inside and outside of academia. Through a mix of networking and careful decision making, I went from writing things for my own fancy to getting paid to write for companies I hold in high regard. Networking has opened multiple opportunities for me that I wouldn't have had otherwise and that I'm extremely grateful for (not mentioning most of them here, but there have been many). I consider networking to be an essential element to building a career (not to replace skill or qualifications, but to coincide with them). 

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Networking is an essential part of success in academia. My view is that academia is not just about producing knowledge, but also communicating and sharing it as well. In order to do your job effectively, you must be good at sharing your knowledge with others. So, I would say that networking is one of the core skills that an academic must develop as part of being a good researcher, not just as a necessity to find work! Academia is not about shutting yourself off from the world, putting your nose to the grindstone and producing good work.

But as others also said, "who you know" isn't meant to replace "what you know". A lack of a good network might hurt your ability to find a good postdoc or faculty position. But, an awesome network with little skills to back it up won't get you very far. Your network gets you noticed by the decision makers, but your actual ability to produce good work will eventually land you the job. 

"Networking" sometimes has a bad connotation because it brings up images of "sleazy car salesman" type actions and being overly aggressive. This isn't really how networking works in academia. To me, networking is really more about building good relationships with your colleagues and taking time and energy to maintain these good connections. We all take time to maintain our abilities, whether it's coding, keeping our equipment clean, reviewing the literature, virus-scanning/backing up our computers etc. so I think maintaining our connections are just as important. My view of networking is something like, "how I can help this person I just met? Do I have some particular skill to offer? Do I know someone who might?" etc.

Some concrete examples for things I do as a graduate student to build and maintain these connections:
- When visitors and guests come to the department, I sign up for meeting slots with them to ask them about their research and to tell them about mine.
- Conferences are a great way to meet other people in my field. I talk to my peers, junior students, senior students, postdocs, faculty. I especially focus on catching up with people I don't normally get to see everyday. There are some friends that I only ever see at conferences so I ensure to have at least one lunch or dinner with them each time.
- I have a research website and maintain an online presence that is related to my professional work
- Throughout the above means, I will meet many people who are interested in my work. They often ask if I'm writing a paper and I say yes, I'll let you know when it's ready! Then, when I submit it to a journal, while waiting for the official peer review, I also send a copy to 3-4 other people who could help me make the work even better and ask for their thoughts. I pick these people in conjunction with my advisor based on how well I (or my advisor) knows them and how much interest they would have in the paper. After all, we're asking to impose on their time so we want to ensure this is something they actually want to do. (**Note: for some journals, you are not allowed to do this)
- After the paper is accepted, I send it to a wider network, basically anyone who expressed any sort of interest in my work beyond just "polite interest". (I keep a list of names).
- I volunteer to host visiting speakers or to join committees to select/invite speakers. It's extra work but people enjoy being invited to come give a seminar and they will remember you. When you need to give talks elsewhere, they will hopefully think of you and invite you to their institution. 
- When people ask me for favours, I say yes when I can (obviously not to the extent where it is detrimental to my own work!). Usually it is just proofreading or providing my perspective on their work. Sometimes, it is because I have a piece of analysis already made and they want me to run their data through my code. I provide a nice little writeup and get coauthorship, but more importantly, developed a new relationship with someone who sees value in my skills/experience.

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