Improve your networking skills
There were a variety of sessions at the 2018 National Postdoc Association conference, but the one I found most valuable was the one on networking.
The National postdoctoral association (NPA) held its 16th annual conference earlier this month in Cleveland, Ohio. This is a national conference for postdocs, administrators, and faculty dedicated to supporting new researchers through innovative practices. The meeting brought together almost 400 attendees to address the suitable career path for postdocs within and outside of academia. While there were a variety of sessions at the conference; the one I found most valuable was the one on networking.
The two and a half-daylong meeting was divided into five concurrent sessions, two plenary sessions, a keynote address, and plenty of time between sessions to network with various people. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a molecular biologist, diversity advocate, and co-founding member of The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), gave the keynote address. All the sessions were highly interactive, and the participants were free to attend whichever concurrent session that interested them.
One of my favorite sessions was one that focused on networking. Josh Henkin, Ph.D. and Mary Mitchell presented this session. Henkin is the founder of STEM Career Services and a member of the Board of Directors for the NPA, and Mitchell is President of the Mitchell Organization. They both reflected their opinions on networking in the session titled “Conversations that result in people wanting to build professional relationships with you.” The session’s main focus was on how networking can help postdocs land their first job.
The Elevator Pitch
To initiate a conversation they emphasized the importance of an effective 30 to 60-second elevator pitch, an essential networking tool in informal gatherings. A typical elevator pitch should contain personal roots, educational background, professional highlights, why you do what you do, and who it benefits. In the elevator pitch, you must prove that you are more than a lab-based scientist.
To learn more about creating an elevator pitch, talk to your career development office to see if they offer a workshop. If not, let them know about the BEST Roadshow, Elevator Pitch Competition, presented by University of California, Irvine.
Continuing the Conversation
During this session on networking, the facilitators explained the steps on how to go forward after the initial introduction (elevator pitch), namely, the “follow-on conversation.” This is an organic discussion between two or more individuals that can greatly impact the future of the relationship. Unlike the elevator pitch, you can not rehearse this networking component; it must be customized to the individual. Show them why it’s important to remain connected. If you are able to establish a personal relationship, you will have a higher chance of being included in their network. Mitchell and Henkin gave tips for having a productive follow-on conversation. For example, maintain eye contact, ask open-ended questions, and have good scientific storytelling skills.
Storytelling is an art that all postdocs should practice. In a separate session, I had the opportunity to learn more about this neglected art from the famous storyteller, Rafael E. Luna. Luna is the author of the book, “The Art of Scientific Storytelling.” Another great book to read to improve your storytelling skills is “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?” by Alan Alda.
Last but not least, to maintain relationships you must find reasons to reconnect. For example, congratulate someone on their accomplishments. You can also tell them about your career progress, especially if it was due to their advice. Other ways include seeking advice, introducing them to people that will provide them value, and sending links to articles that will interest them.
I welcome other attendees to post their insightful thoughts as comments.