Redefining Networking for PhDs

From my workshop at the Beyond Academia Conference,
March 15, 2016
U.C. Berkeley

Let’s start with what networking is not and some common myths:

  • Networking is NOT about meeting people and getting them to like me so that they give me a job.
  • Networking is NOT meeting people above me who have power and authority and getting them to give me something, an opportunity, or a job.
  • Networking is NOT sleazy, cocktail party small talk.
  • You do NOT have to present a fake, dazzling version of yourself when you're networking.
  • Networking  is NOT only for sales people or only for people whose job is about people skills.
  • Your PhD and research does NOT speak for itself.
  • Collecting business cards is NOT networking.
  • Showing up to a seminar and telling the speaker “good job” afterwards is NOT networking.

So what IS networking and what does it NEED to be in order to be successful and fruitful? 

Networking is building relationships and community based on trust and generosity.


Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I go out of my way to spend my time, energy, and enthusiasm on helping other people in their own success without any incentive?
  2. If given 10 minutes with someone, would I be excited to listen to someone's life story, their projects, their aspirations without my own input and judgment?
  3. How often do I reach out to people to see how they're doing overall, and to see how I can help them achieve their goals?

the basic principle

People will help those who they know and trust, those who have helped them or would help them given the opportunity, those who they care about, and those who they think are cool and genuine people.

One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.
— Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn

generosity and giving

You grow your network, you feed it, you nurture it by helping others reach their goals. Not only is this truly generous and altruistic, but also, the more successful your network is, the more valuable that network is for you. So you should try and help everyone you know become as successful as possible. It builds your own net worth and it helps others and will in turn, help you. 

honesty and vulnerability

In order for networking to be useful, people also need to understand your goals. If you and I are connected but I don’t know what your goals and interests are, then even if I see an opportunity, an article, or a person who could be a good connection for you, a job posting, I won’t know to tell you about it.

So be authentic, honest, and vulnerable and let people know what you are looking for in life. Tell people your goals and what opportunities you're looking for. Share with people your fears and questions; you never know who they know or what they know that might change the game for you. 

paradigm shift

So when does networking begin? The moment you make the paradigm shift and realize that people are not there to just give you a job. Think of networking as a process of growing fruit trees. It takes time for a fruit tree to build a foundation, grow strong, and bear good fruit. Relationships are the same! They don't happen overnight. You connect, check in, meet up, treat to coffee, help out, recommend, give, advise, share, build trust, etc. Then maybe one day you ask for something in return. Or maybe you never even need to ask because your amazing network is always offering and sending you opportunities, connections, and guidance. But in either case, definitely start long before any potential need.

In my opinion, you have to fall in love with the process of building relationships. Yes, it means you sincerely have to care about people. Yes, it means you have to truly want others to succeed even at the expense of your precious time and energy. Yes, it means listening to others and figuring out what is important to them. That is the paradigm shift. If you already have these qualities, great! (You can skip ahead to my post on networking tips.)

In part 2 of this networking series, you'll use this definition to really understand why networking is useful.