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Networking in academia

Little has been written on the topic of academic networking yet networking is so crucial to forging an academic career and providing a network and audience for research of all kinds. Networking is the process of building, nurturing and leveraging relationships in order to maximise opportunities for yourself and others. Although networking might traditionally be associated with business and enterprise, these skills are becoming more and more crucial to success in Higher Education (and beyond).

Networking - the benefits

The benefits of networking are almost endless.  For example, 70-80% of all jobs are found through networking.  Every person to meet has a possible 200-250 contacts that can potentially assist in career and professional development.  In recent years social scientists carried out an experiment entitled 'The Six Degrees of Separation' (a similar experiment also ran on the social networking site, Facebook).  This experiment found that one person is only separated from any other person in the world by six 'degrees', or contacts.

To illustrate this, scientists used the example of the Hollywood Star, Kevin Bacon.  When they thought of any famous person, they were able to link that person with Kevin Bacon in six 'degrees' or less.  So how does this apply to research?  If the results of the experiment are true, it means that researchers are only six contacts away from the person with whom they really want to network, whether it be an important academic in the field, or an individual in an outside organization, or a potential research subject.  That person could be famous, they could be a senior figure in your field, or they could be an important stakeholder in the research topic.  It stands to reason, therefore, that to make the most of the opportunities that networking has to offer then researchers need to work out a strategy for meeting important contacts at conferences and other fora.

The 15-minute networking audit

  1. Write down your networking objectives – what do you want to achieve?
  2. Who do you already know? List those people of potential benefit to your research
  3. How can your contacts help you to develop your network? And what can you offer them in return?
  4. What are your current networking habits/skills? How would you like to improve?