By Sojourner White
Graduate students have no shortage of things to do. From studying and working, to internships and group projects, the pressure to succeed and provide quality work is always in the air. Because of this, there can be few opportunities to fully commit to weekend-long conferences, national summits held states away, or international research expos around the world. While these are often the go-to options for networking, your daily graduate school responsibilities can consume your time and energy, which makes these opportunities difficult to attend.
However, there are smaller ways to network into larger opportunities! You don’t have to live in a big city to obtain big networking connections either. I’ve networked my way onto campus committees and job opportunities through emails, DMs, and in-person conversations. By knowing your audience and using these tips, you’ll network your own path into experiences that align with the person you are working hard to become.
1. Change up your study locations
As grad students, studying is pretty much our full-time job. Whether we need to pass exams, write papers, and/or conduct research, we are in school to study for a career path. Within that study time, try switching from your usual study spot. If you’re studying Law, head to the Social Work school building. If you’re studying Business, head to the medical school. You may meet new students who can connect you with resources and campus groups they know. Networking is about being in the right place at the right time. And that right place may be a new library or quiet area on-campus.
2. Attend events outside of your grad program
Enrolling in grad school can often mean being in a bubble with people who are all studying the same coursework as you. For better or for worse, we are bonding with those in our program because they share our struggles, successes, and area of interest. We forget there is an entire campus at our fingertips because areas outside our grad program aren’t in our natural line of sight.
To get acclimated to other areas of campus, attend lectures, panels, and even school mixers outside those hosted by your program. Get added to their list-serve or weekly newsletter. Interdisciplinary exchanges are some of the best interactions, and by making the effort to research campus events, you can meet new people. This is also a great way to network without diverting too much from your campus routine.
3. Curate your social media feeds
It’s time to re-emphasize the “social network” part of social media. While it can be a haven for not-so-good interactions, curating your feeds and timelines can make all the difference to network. Start following people and organizations you admire or hope to work for one day. Engage with them! Join their Twitter chats or find others geared towards people in your field. Searching key phrases and hashtags that interest you is a great place to start building those internet connections that can turn into real-life opportunities.
4. Ask for 20-minute informational interviews
Time is of the essence, so 1-hour inquiry conversations are not going to cut it. This doesn’t mean people aren’t willing to talk, but instead that you might want to ask for 20 minutes versus an entire hour so that it’s easier for them to fit you into their busy schedule. Informational interviews with people whom you met at a campus event, virtually on social media, or via an organization’s website are perfect candidates for informational interviews.
Twenty minutes is just enough to ask your questions, but be sure to research the person and/or organization beforehand to maximize the time. Go beyond the typical “what do you do” or “how did you get started” questions you can find on their website. Consider asking “what did you learn from your greatest failure?” Or “what experience did you think didn’t matter at first, but was beneficial in the long run?” Use those 20 minutes to truly stand out.
5. Make an appointment with career services
An oldie but goodie, career services is a logical choice to network for extracurricular opportunities and connections. They have the power to connect you with someone who can maybe lead you to someone else and so on. Though their focus is to help students attain employment via jobs and internships, get to know the career services staff too. You never know what their background is, and the connection you need might be sitting in the office waiting for you to ask the right questions.
6. Research associations in your area
Associations, memberships, and fellowships are pools of networking possibilities with people in your field. For example, are you interested in International Affairs? See if there is a United Nations Association near you. Associations are free or often have discounted memberships for students. Websites such as Eventbrite and apps like Facebook Local are crawling with meetings, happy hours, and networking events as well. Commit to attending one or two events a month to show your face while balancing your busy schedule.
7. Inquire about alumni networks
Even though you aren’t an alum (yet), there are people who were once in your shoes. Use them! Ask career services or the development department about how to get connected. Search for alumni of your school on LinkedIn to connect with and schedule informational interviews. Remember there is a life after graduate school and people who have come out on top. Their past can be the best resources for you. If you’re a fellowship alumnus, consider joining ProFellows International Fellows Network group on LinkedIn, which holds frequent get-togethers and is a place for fellows around the world to connect.
Despite our busy graduate school schedules, we can learn outside the classroom just as much as inside the classroom. And it does require some legwork. Networking is one way to maximize your graduate student status. Though it’s easy to forget in the midst of life’s happenings, we should be intentional and realize we won’t have these opportunities forever. Get creative because some of the best networking happens when you least expect it.
Sojourner White is a second-year Master’s of Social Work student at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Her concentration is International Social and Economic Development with a specialization in Social Entrepreneurship. Prior to graduate school, Sojourner taught English in Spain as a Fulbright Fellow and served in the AmeriCorps program Public Allies. Sojourner is an alumna of Bradley University where she completed her Bachelor’s Degree, double majoring in Psychology and Spanish and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. When she is not studying or working, you can find Sojourner writing on her travel blog Sojournies.
© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved