During International Women’s Week, we are writing about topics related to Athena SWAN, the charter recognising excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education. As mentorship and networking are recognised as two key determinants of career progression, I would like to share some insight on their importance for us as PGRs and how we can develop our own networks.
TheAndrasBarta (CCO) via pixabay.com
Networking… there are few words that inspire such intense dread in PGRs! Your idea of networking may be the conference poster session, always taking place in some poorly ventilated room, where you are overtaken by nerves about asking a dumb question or not being able to come up with something to say at all. And why would you, as a young PGR, have anything useful to say to the big guys in your field anyway?
But you do! And networking is so much more than this awkward scenario. In fact, we all network on a daily basis. Ever read an article and think of a friend or colleague that may enjoy it, and forward it to them? Or put two colleagues or friends in touch, because they have a similar interest and you think they may benefit from knowing each other? Do you collaborate with anyone inside or outside of your research group? All of this involves networking!
We are told that networking is important for our future careers all the time, but the truth is that we rarely feel confident doing it. During a Student Retreat I organised at our institute, we had a workshop on networking skills by Sara Shinton from Shinton Consulting (@sarashinton). Based on her years of experience, she assured us that talking to senior people is a common fear for PGRs. However, these people are a great source of feedback and opportunities for us and we shouldn’t shy away from them due to a lack of confidence in our networking skills! It is important that we become known to them, as they will be reviewing our grants and papers and may even become our future bosses. It is not a one-way street, however, because we are very interesting to senior academics as well. While they spend most of their time on admin, teaching, politics, and grant writing; we are working at the cutting edge of research. This means we are on top of new developments and techniques, are experts in our particular research areas, and therefore have opinions and insights to share.
Tumisu (CCO) via pixabay.com
Nevertheless, this doesn’t change the fact that PGRs are often scared to start the conversation. Walking up to a stranger may seem intimidating, but there are strategies you can learn for starting conversations, maintaining interest during it, and nurturing your network afterwards. Sara Shinton offers the following advice:
- Sound interested in what you do and want to do in the future.
- Reflect your passion in your language – use positive words, talk about possibilities, and highlight the importance of your work.
- Relate your work to the work, interests, or knowledge of the people you are talking to.
- Use hooks to get their interest – it sounds cheesy and fake, but coming up with a couple of good introductory sentences to start conversations can really help get over that initial awkwardness.
- Construct your story – this is who you are, this is where you want to go, and this is what you’re doing to get there.
I would also recommend keeping in touch with the people you talked to. Send them an e-mail a couple of days after the conference and mention that you enjoyed talking to them and thank them for any helpful suggestions they gave. Business cards may come in handy here to swap contact details – I know very few scientists carry them, but other professionals find them useful for a reason! You can also add them on LinkedIn, which helps you to stay in the loop and have access to their career path and wider network.
It is also worthwhile to realise that you do not necessarily go into every networking event to get something out of it directly, or can only talk to people if you have something to offer them. It may not always be obvious immediately, but one day you may require advice and remember that you can ask that person, or they may come across an exciting opportunity and think of you!
Image credit: “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham, www.phdcomics.com
Networking and mentorship made easy – The Glasgow Network
Just like networking, we often think of mentorship as being an intimate relationship and huge commitment – like Master Yoda training his Padawans to become Jedi Knights. But in fact, you experience mentorship in many ways: your school teachers may have inspired you to pursue a particular degree, great professors may have given you that push to pursue a PhD, and your current supervisors may help you to further develop yourself and your career path. Senior researchers in your group have lots of advice to share, but you may also learn a lot from books or podcasts or your favourite YouTubers – today, mentorship is not restricted to face-to-face soul-searching exercises. And have you ever supervised university students, teaching them new skills and helping them figure out whether they wanted to be researchers? Then you, too, are a mentor!
Benefits of mentorship for the mentee, mentor, and wider community. Screenshot from the Colleges of MVLS and Science & Engineering Athena SWAN Mentoring Pilot Scheme.
To help you get started, the UofG has a great new tool to facilitate networking and mentorship: The Network. This is an exclusive online professional networking site for alumni and students. UofG alumni are found in 180 countries around the globe, with every sector and industry covered. Their experiences can help you, as a current PGR, at all levels of your career journey. On The Network you can connect with, chat to, and request mentorship from other members at the click of a button. There are now over 5,500 people on The Network to mentor you, give careers advice, or industry insight! To find out some specific examples of how The Network can benefit PGRs, I got in touch with Kezia Falconer, Digital Engagement Officer at the Development & Alumni Office. She explains that: ‘Students have secured placements and work shadowing experiences through The Network, and have had great results from mentorship including CV checking, access to industry knowledge, proof reading of coursework, general careers advice and more. I’ve mentored two students through The Network since I started, and one of the students wanted digital marketing experience and was able to help me with some video editing in the library one day.’
I wanted to find out whether The Network really delivers on those promises, so I did some research for you by signing up myself! When you create your account, you can actually use your LinkedIn or Facebook profile to import your education and job history, which means your profile is ready within minutes. The next step is to add some skills that you could provide help with, and some areas you would like assistance with yourself. You can then find people based on their skills, location, industry type, or any other keyword, and once you find someone who you think you may learn from, you can drop them a message – seems simple enough!
As you can see, your personalised dashboard also shows you upcoming events and discussions in groups that you can join. Once you have signed up for some groups, you will also receive a weekly digest e-mail with an overview of activities in these group. The “Resources” tab has lots of helpful articles and videos on applying for jobs, networking, CV building, and insights into various industries. But for me, the best place is the “People” tab, where you can browse through all Network members in search of your own Master Yoda to help guide you on your career journey. Feeling curious and want to try it for yourself? In this video, Kezia walks you through all the steps on how to get started on The Network!
If you’re serious about finding a mentor, I’d recommend reading this article from NatureJobs Blog that gives ten top tips for finding an effective mentor. And remember that you, too, can be a mentor to your fellow PGRs, junior colleagues, and friends. I’ve written about the benefits of building community in your institute before, one of which is the broad network you will benefit from once you all continue your careers in other places. Do you have any other resources to share with helpful tips? Did any of the worries surrounding networking resonate with you, and how do you try to tackle them? Get in touch in the comments or over on Twitter (@UofG_PGRBlog)!