From Talent to Skill to Action: A Story About Networking

Maryam Moshref- 4th Year Ph.D. Candidate
Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Physiology (MCIP)
UC Davis- FUTURE Program Fellow


Back in 2015, I was in a meeting with two of my mentors when they insisted that I had a talent for networking. I remember because I had no intention to network. I wasn’t even sure these mentors were paying me a compliment. Their comment stuck in my mind until I participated in the FUTURE Career Exploration program three years later.

“Networking” is a cliché that we keep hearing is important to career success. The FUTURE program not only teaches the basics of networking but also creates a space for networking. The strategy of this program is unique; it is designed in a way that you automatically start networking in a way that feels natural. In the workshops, we learned to connect with fellow program participants; we discussed our research and what was important to us. I learned that networking is listening and identifying shared interests and sharing information in a way that builds helpful relationships. And yes, it is something I had been doing all along.

Armed with this understanding of networking, and recognizing my fellow FUTURE program participants as part of my professional network, I started to deliberately use this network. I took a big step and started sharing professional development opportunities with the email list of all 200+ program participants on campus. Passing the upcoming opportunities to my FUTURE network was important to me; I made it one of my priorities because I felt passionate about sharing them with my peers. I was encouraged that other participants were starting to do the same.  By generating and sharing helpful information, my small network expanded.

Ah, I thought: We network because

Together We Are Stronger

But my networking story had just begun. In addition to providing opportunities and platforms on which to network, the FUTURE program emphasizes maintaining relationships in a professional network. Months after the FUTURE workshop series ended, FUTURE staff sent an email checking on our career development activities. I set an appointment with the FUTURE instructor to give him updates. The topic of our conversation expanded, and I shared (and ranted) my concern about graduate students’ mental health and how I think certain things should be improved. We chatted on this issue for several weeks, and we came up with different resources on campus to contact, and I designed a workshop on mental health for graduate students.

I felt satisfaction that I had the opportunity to give back to the UC- Davis community that has been taking care of me, and this opportunity came out of sharing what was important to me with my professional network and making helpful connections.

My graduate student mental health workshop is extending my network further. My effort on designing this workshop allowed me to pursue the campus-wide graduate student assistant (liaison) position in the Dean and Chancellor’s office, which was an extraordinary opportunity for a 4th-year graduate student. The liaison position is a job that covers stipend, tuition, and benefits for 13 months, offer access to the chancellor, and work experience with the Vice Chancellor and Dean, all with the end goal of advocating the needs of my fellow 7,000 graduate students.

WOW. Now there is a professional community whose needs I care about and connections that can meet those needs.

Preparing my application, and then for my interview, I drew again on my professional network. The FUTURE program’s leaders read my materials and helped me focus my interview on connecting around shared concerns.  Of course, at this point, I am not sure whether I will get the job, but the process has been incredible. I experienced how a formal interview could be intimidating, but I felt well prepared.

We never know how things connect, and how a small experience brings a bigger one. It’s on us to explore every single opportunity; even if it is just a rant in a friend’s office!

Networking is understanding what we have in common!

Networking is putting ourselves out there!

Networking is finding ways to take action!

We network because together we are stronger!

We never know what we might change. Joining the FUTURE Program helped me see networking not only as a positive thing but a powerful thing. Once you learn the ins-and-outs of networking, it’s up to you to decide where you will take it.

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