How Do I Network?
You are actually networking anytime you meet, write, or otherwise interact with anyone who can potentially assist you or whom you can assist in some career-related way. That said, there are some settings that naturally lend themselves better than others to informally “growing” your professional network. These include attendance at technical meetings, social events at conferences, participation in professional organizations, etc.
If you attend a technical conference and hear a talk by someone that you believe you could a useful contact such as a potential graduate research mentor or a future collaborator, don’t be afraid to seek them out at the end of their talk and introduce yourself. Attend social events at professional conferences such as luncheons and social hours. Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. If you are unsure what to say and/or do, remember that people always enjoy talking about themselves and their interests professional and non-professional. A good way to begin a conversation might be to ask what kind of research your new friend does and then really listen to what they have to say. You are likely to find that their reply prompts you to ask another question or to share some information about yourself. Don’t forget that scientists are people, too. Personal connections are an important
If you are considering attending graduate school, it can be extremely beneficial to attend technical sessions in areas that interest you and look for academicians who might be good research mentors. If you like what you see and hear from them in their formal meeting presentations, seek them out and speak with them personally afterward one-on-one. If you area concerned that you might become afraid or nervous, write out what you want to say to them in advance and then really listen to what they have to say in response. If you think you might be interested in their research, proffer them one of your handy business cards. When you return home, be sure to follow up with a brief letter (relative link to letter writing section) thanking them for their time and inquiring about the availability of research opportunities (and financial support, if you are interested in this) in their laboratory.
Consider joining a local student chapter of a professional organization in your discipline such as the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, or the Materials Research Society and actively participate in their monthly meetings. Professional organizations are a useful mechanism of forging new professionally mutually beneficial relationships as well as developing new non-technical skills (leadership, teamwork, etc.). Professional associations often significantly discount membership prices as a means of encouraging student participation. Monthly meetings often begin with a brief technical presentation by an invited speaker and are usually followed by informal dinners. The relaxed environment is ideal in facilitating interactions among participating members.