By Brittany Mihalec-Adkins
If you had a dime for every time you’ve heard that “it’s all about who you know,” how close to retirement would you be? Yes – networking is invaluable to landing opportunities in almost any field, including fellowships, internships, jobs, and acceptance letters. But many of us have quite the love-hate relationship with networking. As awesome as the results can be, networking can be awkward or even intimidating – especially if you are applying for a competitive fellowship. How do you network in meaningful ways that result in lasting professional connections? And how can you use networking to strengthen your fellowship application? We have a few ideas:
1. Attend events and conferences with other people in your field
Regional and national conferences are one of the best opportunities to meet with leaders in your field of interest. These events draw researchers and professionals from all over the place and may be your only opportunities to meet with some of these folks in person. If there are people you want to meet with, be sure to send them an email before the conference so you can get on their “let’s get coffee” schedule. Grabbing coffee and talking about your work or research for even twenty minutes can really help you to stand out as motivated and serious (which may come in handy when you apply for that fellowship…).
ProFellow tip: If there is a list of attendees provided before or during the conference, take the time to find out if anyone is a current or former fellow of the fellowship you are interested in. Be sure to bring a stack of CVs, resumes, or business cards for connecting with other attendees!
2. Participate in live webinars hosted by the fellowship
This tip is really important – and you can do it in your pajamas! Live webinars not only give you access to information that you may not find on the fellowship website but also provide opportunities to introduce yourself to fellowship staff and ask questions. You may also meet other applicants or fellows with whom you can swap applications or get feedback!
ProFellow tip: Spend a few minutes drafting a list of questions before the webinar begins – asking a couple of thoughtful questions is a great way to show that you have done your research and that you are serious about the fellowship.
3. Reach out to current and former fellows
Don’t be afraid to send emails to current and former fellows. They can tell you what the fellowship is actually like, and they’ll be honest with you about it. Be sure to ask about the application process, too! Not only have they successfully applied for the same fellowship, but they will be familiar with the selection process and have tips to offer.
ProFellow tip: Before connecting with a fellow, have specific questions prepared. Take a few minutes to read fellows’ bios or skim one of their research articles before reaching out to them – this gives you a better idea of who they are and what they do and can help you make the most of your conversations.
4. Use LinkedIn or ResearchGate to connect
Think of these tools as your resume’s Instagram – you get to show off what you’re doing, what you’re proud of. These platforms let you see what other young professionals and field leaders are doing, and they help them see what cool stuff you’re doing! Invest some time in adding your education and experience to your profile so that it can network for you. After meetings, webinars, and email exchanges, send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn or ResearchGate to show that you are interested in remaining connected, and to give your new contact the opportunity to see how impressive your resume is.
ProFellow tip: Personalize your LinkedIn URL so you can put the link on your resume and business cards. Instead of your default linkedin. com/fw85356, try something more personal, like linkedin. com/FellowshipWinner (you get the idea).
5. Ask your mentors and advisors to connect you
Another way to connect with others in your field is to ask your mentors or advisors to introduce you to their contacts. An email from a colleague gets a quicker response than a cold email from a graduate student or young professional they do not know. When asking a mentor for an introduction, be sure to include one or two specific questions you would like to ask the person of interest, so it is clear you will not be wasting their valuable time. Spend some time reviewing their work or research so that you can convey your familiarity with their background.
ProFellow tip: Once you have been introduced by email, be sure to follow-up immediately – don’t wait for them to respond. Ask a substantive question about their work (everyone likes to talk about themselves), share a little about your work and interests, and ask to schedule a quick phone call or meeting at an upcoming conference. You got this!
Brittany Mihalec-Adkins is a first-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and second-year Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University.
© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved.