Research is not a profession that happens in isolation. Researchers are engaged in the business of discovering and sharing knowledge – and many researchers find that they get their best ideas from interacting with others, whether at meetings and conferences, or through casual after-work chats. Good networking is about maximising the opportunity to meet others and share ideas and opinions. Not only will it benefit your research, but it may open doors for future career opportunities.
Some of you may be uncomfortable with the idea of networking. It may seem rather selfish and mercenary. But don’t be put off. If a colleague came to you for advice on a research idea or a grant proposal, for example, it’s unlikely that you would turn that colleague away. So why shouldn’t you approach other colleagues for help and support when you need it?
Benefits of networking
Networking can help you to:
- exchange information and keep up-to-date with new developments
- secure personal, political or managerial support for your work
- identify potential areas for collaboration
- establish disciplinary, cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional interest groups
- get published
- explore career options.
It is a two-way process – an opportunity for you to give support and information as well as receive it.
We all have networks, even if we do not consciously cultivate them. Your network includes:
- your family, friends and neighbours and their contacts
- your work colleagues and other staff in your institution
- former work colleagues
- members of any professional bodies to which you belong
- people you meet at conferences and courses
- members of your online discussion groups and social networks
- members of social or sports clubs to which you belong.
Any of these may prove to be useful in the development of your professional career.
Vitae’s careers pages provide extensive guidance on professional networking. A brief checklist of tips for effective networking might include the following:
- ask yourself what type of people you want to network with, and for what purpose?
- how will you encourage them to network with you? What can you offer them? How can you appeal to their good nature?
- where will you meet them? Conferences? Meetings?
- how will they remember you? Do you need to get a business card printed?
- how will you store their details? A database of contacts? An address book? A business card holder?
- you can help other people to network by introducing them to your contacts.
If there is no existing forum for you to meet the people that you want to network with, consider setting one up. You may be able to get funding from your institution or faculty to enable you to set up research seminars or symposia (e.g. the University of Warwick’s ‘Networking Grants’ and ‘Masterclass Grants’. Research Councils and other external funders may also have money available to help you; check their websites for details.
Research staff associations
The UK Research Staff Association (UKRSA) is a national forum for members of research staff. It provides policy advice on a national level and lobbies to help support the professional development of research staff. It also exists to encourage research staff to form communities and associations at local, regional and discipline level, to support and encourage one another.
Research staff associations are excellent places to meet other researchers from a wide spectrum of academic disciplines, and at a range of levels of experience. If there is one near you, consider getting involved; if there isn’t, have you thought about setting one up?
Online networks for researchers
Most researchers are familiar with social networking sites such as Facebook . An increasing number of researchers are making use of LinkedIn which is a networking site designed specifically for professional contacts. A site designed specifically for researchers is Academia. It is mainly US-based but an increasing number of researchers in UK institutions are using it to establish international professional networks of their own.
Vitae’s Research Staff Blog is an open forum for researchers of all disciplines to discuss issues of interest and concern. Articles posted range from light-hearted discussions to in-depth analysis of controversial issues affecting researchers. Contributors are welcome to request help and advice as well as to share their own insights.
Finally, many researchers use their own online presence as a networking tool. Personal websites, blogs and discussion groups can be used to make other researchers (or future employers) aware of your research interests, and could be the first port of call for a potential future collaborator. However, there might be contractual, ethical or intellectual property restrictions on the content that a researcher can post on a research website or blog, and there are pitfalls to using these kinds of networking tools. Researchers should use them with care!
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