BUILDING NETWORKS

I want my PhD students to interact on a personal level with our visiting scholars - what do they do after work, what kind of music do they like - to know them as normal people.

Building your reputation and network 

 

In an increasingly global world, networks are critically important for academic success. There is evidence that people who build extensive networks experience greater career success [1]. Establishing a strong and diverse network is important for improving your visibility in your career, and your access to growth and promotion prospects [2]. In academia, research collaborations are increasingly important. Papers are no longer only developed through traditional mentor-protégé relationships, but often include several authors from different institutions and countries [3]. Networking has become a crucial professional skill for academics.  

Face-to-face networking 

 

Networking can occur in-person (face-to-face) or indirectly, including through online spaces. Face-to-face networking typically occurs in academic settings such as conferences, research presentations, training programs, and more. In a study of academic staff, face-to-face networking activities – such as attending a conference or seminar abroad – has increased substantially over the past three decades [4]. Academics are also now more likely to be invited as a guest lecturer at foreign institutes. 

 

A 2014 study found that researchers have five different ways of mentioning individual audience members in presentations for the purposes of networking [5]:  

  • Procedural: Mentioning an audience member represents the conventional start of an oral presentation. 

  • Deictic anchoring of examples: Mentions serve to anchor examples in the situational context. 

  • Contextualizing: Mentions are in reference to the content of presentations by previous speakers to create shared context of reference. 

  • Co-membershipping: Mentions reflect that presenter and audience share an important characteristic and therefore belong to the same specific group. 

  • “Fishing” for research collaboration: Mentions focus on possible future research collaboration by indicating overlaps in research topics or explicitly declaring interest in collaboration. 

Furthermore, this study found that the use of these techniques was successful. Scholars who mentioned others were more likely to maintain contact and co-author with other members of their cohort. Thus, mentioning individual audience members in academic presentations can enhance academics’ research collaboration.  

Collaborating with industry partners  

A 2007 study identified three different phases that academics experience when collaborating with businesses. Each has its own challenges to be overcome [6]:  ​

1. Initiation Phase

Obstacles

Getting financial support for projects, the university’s inability to make use of collaborative competence, different value systems and priorities between academic and industry culture, fear of collaborating with someone outside the academic community. 

Strategies

Be in contact with different professional networks, create a private company, develop trust [7] and openness using pedagogic strategies (e.g., open discussions) 

2.Establishing Phase

Obstacles

Academics’ limited time for professional activities, scientists’ one-way forms of communication, the impact of academic language. 

Strategies

Interact more with businesses, develop dialogue competence for communicating with non-academic partners.  

3. Elaboration Phase

Obstacles

Complex and different contexts in which business operate, a struggle to find competent academics who understand complex business culture, a lack of places where academics can meet.  

Strategies

Make sure collaboration leads to further collaborative projects, create a financially self-sufficient company to carry out collaboration activities (e.g., holding company).  

Overall, this study provided a more nuanced view of how academics and practitioners collaborate. Furthermore, researchers who are engaged in collaboration with enterprises can make use of these strategies when they encounter collaboration obstacles. 

Social networking

A study in the UK [9] examined the experiences and perceptions of academics that use social media for professional development and networking opportunities. They focused on academics’ social media activities, motivations, and outcomes. Academics engage in online professional activities, including blogging, posting on Twitter, and making use of a profession-based SNS, such as Linkedin or Academia.edu. The authors identified four key themes of academics’ professional motivations for using social media: 

  1. External drive 

    The academic has been invited by colleagues, encouraged by their department, or triggered by an external event to engage with online networking platforms. 

    Quote: “So for instance if I’m at a conference I’ll tweet. I don’t use it very often but it tends to go in bursts.” 

  2. Self-development 

    The academic wants to acquire more information, keep up-to-date, and increase their profile or visibility. 

    Quote: “Senior people know who I am because of Twitter. That has to help.” 

  3. Network maintenance 

    The academic wants to maintain and strengthen the existing connections they have. 

  4. Network widening 

    The academic wants to make new contacts and increase engagement opportunities. Using social media enables them to bring their work to a wider audience.  

 

Academics noted a wide range of outcomes from their engagement with social media, including learning new things that contributed to their work, receiving useful feedback, developing new contacts, and extending the audience for their work.  

 

Social networking sites are steadily growing in popularity among academics for social networking [10]. ResearchGate and Academia.edu are two academic social networking sites [11][12] that are used worldwide. These sites appeal to those who are associated with academic institutions and specialize in academic activities, such as generating and sharing papers and data.  

 

Both ResearchGate and Academia.edu enable researchers to find and connect with other experts, discover relevant documents, become more visible, create a network, and discuss topics [13]. They also allow users to post public questions to the community and view colleagues’ work. Following another user allows you to receive notifications when they post or answer a question, upload documents, and engage in other relevant activities [14]. The main goal of ResearchGate is to connect geographically distant researchers and enable continuous communication [15], whereas Academia.edu aims to encourage and stimulate the publication of studies [16]

 

A 2017 study investigated the usage and perceived utility of the above-mentioned websites [15]. First, a review of the literature found five primary reasons that academics utilise professional SNSs:  

  1. Management of an online persona 

    Researchers create an online profile where they can present their professional experience, ideas, and capabilities.  

  2. Diffusion of studies 

    Members can upload articles to the platform. These articles are presented to other researchers that follow them, are affiliated with the same institution or department, or have a similar research area of interest.

  3. Collaboration 

    Digital networks provide a space for direction communication and presentation of details for the establishment of personal relations among researchers.  

  4. Information management 

    An academic social network site can be used as a collaborative information-management system as it provides ideas, drafts, articles, references, and citations for researchers.  

  5. Measurement of impact 

    Academic social networks often provide metrics, such as the number of citations of an article, the impact factor of the journals in which the article appears, or the number of times an article has been downloaded or read.

The study also surveyed academics about the extent of their use of networks and perceived utility of the platforms. Researchers used these websites mainly for consumption of information (less commonly for sharing), and on rare occasions for interacting with others.  

The motivations for researchers to visit the networks included self-promotion [17] and ego bolstering, acquisition of professional knowledge, belonging to a peer community, and interaction with peers.  

Strategies for developing your face to face networking skills   

 

Harvard Business Review has published a number of articles on networking skills [18][19][20]. These include the following four strategies on learning to love networking [21]: 

  1. Focus on learning 

    Increase your promotion mindset (focus on achieving positive outcomes) and avoid a prevention mindset (worrying about what might go wrong). For example, thinking “This event could be interesting, who knows – maybe it will lead to new ideas” is a promotion-based statement, compared to “I really don’t like going to events like this. I have to pretend that I like it all evening”, which is a prevention-based statement.  

  2. Identify common interests 

    This is also known as the “shared activities principle”: these activities connect you with others. Consider what you can give to others and what they can give to you.  

  3. Think broadly about what you can give 

    Broadly consider what you have to offer. You can contribute your values, identities, unique insights, or knowledge. 

  4. Find a higher purpose 

    Focus on the collective benefits, rather than personal benefits, of making connections. You’ll feel more motivated.  ​

 

Networking can, however, be draining because it requires a lot of energy. HBR suggests the following techniques to prevent exhaustion from networking [22]: 

  1. Determine your optimum level of social interaction 

    Track your networking hours and energy levels to identify your limits. 

  2. Choose quality over quantity 

    Make sure to conserve your energy for quality opportunities.  

  3. Bring a co-worker as your networking partner 

    Social support reduces exhaustion. It can also reduce the number of contacts you need to make, as you and your co-worker can share your new networking contacts with each other.  

  4. Use microbreaks to reenergize 

    Examples of microbreaks are: going to the water cooler, chatting with a colleague, or checking in on your family [23]. Doing this can help you replenish your energy resources. 

 

For introverts, networking can be even more challenging as small talk feels difficult and it can be hard to bond with new people. Many academics think of themselves as introverts and find social interactions difficult. Here are some networking tips for introverts [24]:

 

  • Use a simple opening statement, such as “So, what brings you here?” 

  • Research the list of attendees of the event to get a sense of their work. Knowing a little about what they do can make it easier to have a substantive conversations.  

  • Be strategic. Have a specific goal in mind, such as talking to at least three people at a networking event. Take pride in meeting that goal, and build up that goal for future events.  

  • Make sure to have time to recharge. For example, you may want to sleep in on the day you intend to network (or the day after). 

Suggested links

Suggested videos and podcasts

Michelle Simmons' Podcast - Interview by Sharon Parker
00:00 / 00:00