In past newsletters, we have encouraged you to build your network of support. This includes growing mentorship connections with peers, faculty and university staff, as well as developing your network of professional, social and community support off campus. Yet we often hear from graduate students and postdocs that although they know that building networks is crucial to success, the “how” isn’t readily apparent at times.
Below are some ways for you to consider networking as a process of relationship-building:
Relationship-building. Networking is about cultivating relationships (short- and long-term); it’s not just a means to an end so you can land an internship, job or access information about upcoming research or professional opportunities. If you approach networking solely as a means to fulfill your own goals, the connections are less meaningful and they will be harder to sustain. Focus on connecting with people you are genuinely curious about, and let the conversations unfold.
Mutuality. Approach each networking relationship through the lens of reciprocity. For example, just as you hope to learn wisdom and insights from individuals who work in fields that pique your interests, individuals within your network can be inspired by your passion and curiosity. If you have questions, you can trust that others do as well. Even experienced mentors need to think through intellectual or work-related questions, and they can arrive at new understandings by learning from your talents and capacities as a mentee.
Cohort mindset. Think of networking as a lifelong process, where you increasingly make connections within a social web of intellectual, professional and community-based relationships. Growing your network decreases your isolation while optimizing your peer and mentor support. For example, depending on where you are now, you may form a writing group, or career exploration group, so you do not have to pursue these typically solo activities in isolation. Over time, opportunities for you to pay-it-forward will undoubtedly open up.
Adaptability. When you’re in the thick of setting and completing immediate goals, it can be difficult to think about where you plan to be in the next five years. Building and sustaining quality networking relationships can increase your chances of responding to future changes (stressful or otherwise) in your field or industry with flexibility, while decreasing your likelihood of making reactive professional decisions. If there is a tough problem you need to solve, individuals in your network can support you by offering multiple perspectives, lend you a compassionate ear so you can weather the storm, and keep you grounded by reminding you of your purpose.
Many thanks to Kemp Battle, Michaela Duffy, and Julia Freeland Fisher for consulting with Core Programs on ideas related to networking.
As always, we hope these strategies are helpful, and let us know what works for you!
Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School