Training for Your Next Networking Adventure

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

There is a stereotype that scientists are introverts who don’t like having conversations with strangers. This is a false stereotype, but not even extroverts like networking. Our other bloggers have written great tips for how to network and interview. These transferable skills can come from many places, k-12 educators push extracurriculars like club sports for this reason, but everything I know about how to play the jobs game I learned from Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

Leveling Up

Ok, not just D&D, but board games and video games too. All the skills you need to succeed in the lab and beyond are tested and trained in these games. It will also do wonders for your vocabulary. Board games have come a long way from the doldrums of Candy Land (not a game!) and Monopoly (purposely designed to make you miserable!). Ever since Settlers of Catan took family game nights by storm in 1995, board games have been giving us the opportunity to manage resources, develop strategies, and work with others. These skills transfer surprisingly well to the lab where we have to create research plans, acquire funding, and work with labmates toward a common goal.

D&D has been around for longer than these board games and takes all of these themes deeper. You work within a loose set of rules to achieve…well that’s the thing: what you want to achieve is mostly up to you. As you and your friends collectively tell a story of epic adventures, you get to decide what you want to do and how to do it.

Our heroes face off against a terrifying undead dragon!

 

 

Want to save the world from an evil wizard? Get to it!

 

Steal a prized jewel from the queen? Sure!

 

Become pirates? Why not!

 

 

 

And with each of these scenarios, you have to figure out how to go about doing it. Will you use stealth? Charge in screaming? Walk up and talk your way through it? These are all choices you have to make. There are math and dice of course – figuring out what skills your character needs to be a sneaky thief or silver-tongued bard – but mostly it’s about role-playing. You can’t just say “I talk my way out of this situation” you have to act out the conversation. When you’re faced with a puzzle, you sit down and work it out. In the game as in real life, you need to collaborate with your team and devise the best solution.

As the chief storyteller (the Game Master) I play all of the other characters in the world: the evil wizard, the queen, the merchants the pirates are attacking. Sometimes I go in with a speech prepared, and sometimes I have little more than a motivation and a general idea of where I want the story to go next. I need to make plans and improvise when the other players drive those plans off the rails. I have to empathize with other players to know when they are enjoying a scene and when it’s time to wrap things up. All of the skills I have learned from gaming have helped in my career.

Gaming Meets Reality

Networking is pretty much just role-playing.

I don’t fight evil wizards in the real world, but I’ve defeated my share of exam committees and journal reviewers. I know how much information I need to prepare for a presentation and how much I can improvise. I can navigate networking events by knowing my goals and assessing the motivations of others. My elevator pitch is much better because I can read when people are excited or bored.  I can be comfortable in these environments because I have already practiced being a thousand different people in as many situations. Those puzzle-solving sessions easily translate to my real-world engineering design meetings. Networking doesn’t follow a strict flowchart so you can’t either. The strategy and improvisational skills I developed in these games have helped me far more than any networking workshop I’ve been to.

How Do I Start Honing those Interview Skills with Gaming? 

Fortunately, getting started in gaming is quite easy. Unlike joining a club sport, you don’t need to invest in pricey equipment or already have the skills to play. While there are a plethora of books and accessories you can buy, you really just need paper and a pencil to get started. Pathfinder  (a cousin of D&D) is open source, and all of the rules can be found online. You can also use one of the many published adventures, from simple introductory quests to complex campaigns, if you’re not ready to write your own story from scratch.

What if I Don’t Have a Local Group of Friends to Play With?

I have found that the best people to play games with are people you also like hanging out with. Most of the people in my regular gaming group are people I met through school or work. If you can’t find people close by, many game stores will have open game nights or message boards where you can meet new people. If the logistics are too complicated, there are even online systems like Roll20 let you play online. You might be surprised how open people are to an invitation to adventure. Gaming has turned several casual acquaintances into solid friends.

I Am Not a Socially Awkward Boy, Is Gaming for Me?

Anyone can play D&D!

Just like in the lab, diversity is an important component of any successful adventuring party. Sure, a whole party of fighters might be able to defeat a few bandits, but they aren’t going to last long without a cleric to heal them, a wizard to cast spells, and a rogue to disable the traps. Similarly, not all gaming groups are made up exclusively of teenage boys. In fact, studies find that nearly half of gamers are women and the ages are fairly evenly distributed. Anyone can be a gamer. There is still an unfortunate amount of bias and harassment in the gaming world as a whole, but this is not inherent to the game. When you put together your group, you get to pick who you play with, so don’t let these bad actors stop you from having a great time.

I am a Graduate Student; Do I Really Have Time for This?

Yes.  Although deadlines can interfere with your regular gaming nights, it is important to take some time away from the lab bench. Nearly every Wednesday evening through my six years of graduate school, I got together with friends to adventure. We rotate who brings dinner and get to catch up on the past week. Plus, it isn’t procrastination, this is training for your career!

Concluding the Adventure

Our characters don’t retire after completing one quest and our adventures aren’t over once we graduate. Use this time to hone the skills you’ll need for the next phase your career. Go get some friends together for a game and you’ll be leveling up in game and in the real world in no time!

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