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Developing and Maintaining a Professional Network during the PhD and beyond

Caroline Betto-Colliard, Ilaria Orsi & Denis Billotte, CUSO

Establishing and maintaining a professional network is essential for doctoral candidates – not only while studying, but also for their professional future whether in the private sector or in academia, as we recently discussed in one of our last posts.
Networking is based on sharing and exchange, voluntary collaboration and the principle of reciprocity. It allows you to develop your career and to create cooperative partnerships during the entire professional life, and not only just after the end of the PhD. In addition, discussing and collaborating with colleagues from different cultures and backgrounds is an extremely enriching experience for your own personal development. Here, we propose some suggestions and ideas to proactively build, grow and maintain a professional network. Please also note that a specific Transversal Program workshop (Proactive Managing Relationships and Networks) has been conceived to improve your skills in networking!

1. Attend and present at conferences/workshops
Conferences, workshops, careers days are all excellent and easy ways to meet other researchers in your field and beyond and to start building your own network. Check the conference program to shortlist who you would like to talk to. Consider presenting your research in an oral communication or through a poster: people will more easily come and talk to you. Take some business cards with you but remember that just exchanging business cards does not really count as making a contact. Take advantage of the coffee breaks and dinners to have a more in depth conversation with your new contacts and get to know them better. Networking is a horizontal as well as a vertical process: make connections not only with high-level contacts but also with other graduate students.

2. Frequent lectures and seminars
Supervisors, departments or even faculties regularly invite guest speakers to give a lecture. Sometimes, slots are dedicated for discussions and/or a dinner is organized after the lecture where graduate students are invited to attend. Join them: this is a great opportunity to make connections with the guest lecturer, but also with people of your department/faculty.

3. Define goals for networking events
Identifying and defining goals regarding your professional interactions and networking events will help you to reach them. Ask yourself: What do I want to do in my professional career? What support might I need to achieve my objectives and what can I offer in return?

4. Take part in commissions
At university, doctoral candidates are often asked to be part of a scientific committee, e.g. within a department, a doctoral program, etc… If you are interested in the subject of these committees, this is a good occasion for you to widen your professional network.

5. Go on an exchange
If you have the opportunity to spend a research period abroad during your PhD, and if your family situation allows it, then do it! The connections and contacts you will make will be extremely enriching and invaluable for future projects and publications.

6. Build an online presence
Developing an online presence is a good way to allow other researchers to find and reach you out. There are several ways to share about yourself, your research or your interests online: being on the (professional) social networks (LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Twitter, Academia), developing a blog or create a Portfolio CV webpage. Consider them and find the one(s) that correspond(s) with your desires and principles. If you are interested, have a look at the courses “Let’s create your blog together” or "Let’s boost your LinkedIn profile" proposed by the CUSO transversal program.

7. Keep in touch
Once you have developed contacts, it is important to maintain them. For instance, send a short message to the new people you met, ask them if they are going to the next/another conference, demand them some news about their current work, congratulate them for a new publication, a graduation or a job promotion. Remember that building a good network take time and need to be maintained and developed over the long term.

8. Organize a meeting
Most of CUSO disciplinary doctoral programs allow graduate students to organize a workshop or a course. Take advantage of this opportunity to organize a workshop that will interest your colleagues by inviting some of your contacts. Doing so will further strengthen your working relationships.

9. Explore informational interviews
An informational interview is an informal conversation between a potential job seeker (looking for advices on his/her career, the culture of the company, etc..) and a human resources manager or an employee (building their candidate pool for potential future hires). It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings. A different way to build your network and gain insights into a company or an institution. You may find some informational interviews on LinkedIn.

10. Develop your social tool kit
Maintaining a conversation is not always easy, but you can work on your communicative and social skills to feel more confident during your professional interactions. Talk about yourself and listen carefully when others are telling you something. Practice with greetings and self-presentations, prepare yourself in advance to talk concisely and effectively about your research and do not forget to ask questions to your interlocutor. Need some help? Have a look at all the communication courses proposed by the CUSO transversal program.

Mots clés: Career, Networking, Communication, Middle of thesis, End of thesis