A supportive network is important for your mental health and happiness. This is particularly true during stressful times, like grad school and career transitions. Networking – meeting people in the science community is important for professional development and meeting people outside of science is good for balance. At every transition after grad school, you start fresh, while most of the people around you are in different stages of their careers. This means there is no built-in social network.
What can you do to build your own network?
Tricks for building your personal and professional networks have overlapping themes but different specific venues and outlets.
To find your professional network, start by looking around at your institution. There are probably events at your school specifically targeted for you. Check the website, read fliers, and ask around. Many universities have postdoc associations and grad student associations that have happy hours, networking events, and career sessions that gather people with similar goals.
Go to Seminars and Talks
Seminars are another place where you can see who around you is interested in the science you care about. Some departments have opportunities for you to interact with the speaker. My school has postdoc breakfasts and grad student lunches with speakers. It is a great way to be exposed to professors at other universities in a casual setting, and also to get to know other postdocs and students at your own university. Speakers often go around the room to hear a little bit from everyone. It is a chance to become familiar with the research that goes with faces you see regularly and also to practice your elevator pitch. Check out your department, your institute, or your school for these kinds of events.
Also look outside of your institution. My local Women in Science group is quite active, and their happy hours and “lunch and learn sessions” are great for meeting people. Getting involved in the organization of a group like this may not be as hard as you think and can be even better for meeting people. It may or may not be time consuming, depending on your involvement, but it depends on the group, and your role in it, so it doesn’t hurt to check it out.
Join a Group
Professional associations are great resources too. I have gone to a few state bioscience association networking events. Big events like this are a bit more difficult for an introvert like myself, but I have met some interesting people. Some of my friends made great connections through these types of organizations. They are easy to find. Just Google your state name plus your broad science topic. You’ll often find professional networking events,and career building workshops. The more active organizations are a good resource for local jobs.
Depending on your field and location (this seems particularly popular in the tech-related fields), there are also professional meetups that help connect with the broader community.
Communities are important, whether they help you professionally or not. The best way to meet people is to have a hobby.
Make Your Hobby Work for You
Are you a knitter? Look for local knitting meetups. Are you a runner? Check out local running groups. Many running stores have weekly runs. Also local neighborhood social networks are a good source for home-grown groups or as a place to start your own. After 4 years of running by myself in a new, and then not-so-new town, I happened upon a post about a bi-weekly run starting 4 blocks from my house. I’m so glad I found it and I wish I had looked earlier.
Speaking of neighborhood, meet your neighbors! You may have a neighborhood association that hosts activities, particularly in the summer. Summer concerts, movies or plays in the park, and street fairs are a great way to get out of the lab when the sun is shining.
Volunteer for something you are passionate about. You will meet other people passionate about it too and you will feel good about yourself while growing your personal network. There is a huge range of organizations you can volunteer for, from science outreach to human rights to taking care of the environment.
It can feel like a lot of work to put yourself out there and make time for networking and making friends. A science career requires so much time and energy that often you are left feeling like that is your whole world. It doesn’t have to be. When you set aside time to make friends and connections you’re taking care of what is important in your life, which benefit you, and your career, in the long run.