The Ultimate Guide to Networking in Graduate School During the Pandemic

Sep 17, 2020

By Angell Kim

As we overcome the pandemic, most tasks, including networking, have transitioned to being almost completely online. However, the approaches to networking remain the same whether it be in person or online: researching, creating a pitch, and following up.

You can still be successful at networking online even during the pandemic. Here are some points to make that happen.

1. Know Yourself

Do you enjoy meeting new people? Do you thrive in groups? Do you prefer meeting people one-on-one? Are you shy? These are all questions to consider so you can network successfully based on your personality. 

If you are on the more introverted side, try to focus on networking for one purpose and then search for the person to start the conversation. Networking will require some sort of small talk, and for the introverted folks out there, you just have to learn how to small talk with purpose! However, if you thrive on interaction, focus on having intentional conversations.

2. Know What You Want 

As graduate students, you may focus on being marketable or securing a summer internship with the end goal being to get a job after graduating. It’s never too early to network for job prospects and specifying the purpose will guide you to reach out to the right people or person.

Perhaps you have other goals for your graduate school career such as the desire to publish work, receive more financial support for your studies, receive support for healthy food during graduate school, apply for a grant for a project, or find out about a specific resource. Whatever you need, you can find and achieve it through networking. Get specific about what you want, and then angle your networking conversations around it. This will help you learn more about people with similar interests and share a little about yourself!

3. Find the Right Person or People

Orientations – Orientations are a great start to find the right people for the help or resource you are looking for. After attending several online orientations for graduate school that were open to all incoming graduate students, I learned there were a plethora of resources – even online. If your school offers a week or two of online orientation, attend them. Note who the speakers are. You have nothing to lose when attending them! From my experience I learned what resources the library offered, what freebies I could receive as an incoming student, what gear I could rent out from the recreation center, the presence of a food pantry to prevent food insecurity among students, and what fellowship opportunities were out there. The speakers of those orientations were mostly the directors or contacts of those specific departments or programs. 

Graduate School Connections – You can also start by talking to your graduate program’s point of contact, a professor of a class, or a peer. As you begin graduate school, you will need to solidify or draft out your two-year degree plan. Usually, you will have to talk to the graduate program’s point of contact or academic adviser to sort the classes out – and these meetings will have to happen virtually right now! You can always ask this contact about your queries, and most of the time, he or she will be able to help out by redirecting you to the right person or sharing the resources that you need. 

Furthermore, your peers from classes are also great networks. You can ask the graduate program contact to share some contacts of alumni or second-year graduate students in your program to set up a virtual conversation to pick their brains and find out about opportunities, recommendations, and professors or people!

Clubs and Organizations – You can even network virtually through participating in a club or organization. Whether you are a member or an officer of the club, the networking opportunities are endless because you can build a connection with the other members and officers and even the sponsor.

4. Research that Person’s Background

Networking can be daunting and will require a bit of small talking to break the ice, but knowing your purpose in connecting with a specific person and a little about the person themselves makes it much easier. 

For example, if you are trying to secure a summer internship for your degree, it would be best to first research what kinds of summer internships you are interested in and what organizations you would like to intern for. This is where the research takes place. What organizations pique your interest? How can you contribute? What would you like to learn or accomplish? Who would you like to collaborate with? 

After you’ve narrowed down who to speak with first (using the tips above!), it’s time to learn a little bit more about that person. LinkedIn is a great tool for networking, and it is becoming more commonplace to contact people you don’t know to find opportunities or meet new people. Research what this person does prior to contacting him or her. What interests you about him or her?

5. Create a Pitch

Now, it’s time to create a pitch where you introduce yourself and express your purpose. If you are reaching out via email or connecting via LinkedIn by sending a note, you have to be concise, clear, and cordial!

When you write your messages to first connect, introduce yourself a little bit first. Then, mention how you were able to get his or her contact. Lastly, take initiative to ask for their time to talk at their convenience about X, Y, or Z. This is why it is important to know your network and what you hope to get out of the conversation prior to connecting.

6. Follow-Up

Follow-up should happen if you haven’t heard from the contact in a few days or if you are trying to schedule a good time and day. It’s also proper after the conversation to say thank you and to keep in touch. Be sure to update them about any progress or ask other questions you may have. To help guide you in asking for help and then following-up with them, please check out this guide on how to ask your networks for help.

Sometimes you won’t hear back from the contact about the initial conversation, and that’s okay. Just follow-up, and if you still don’t hear from that person, find another person to network with! Sometimes you might not get the response that will guide or help you, and that’s okay, too. Again, find another contact because the opportunities to meet new people are endless. There is someone out there who can help you – but you have to take the initiative to find them!

In conclusion…

When it comes to your professional life, you will need to ask for help and guidance along the way. Networking is an important tool in exploring the opportunities out there and creating valuable connections. It is a circular action where there is giving and receiving, and you can only reap positivity and opportunity from networking and networking some more. Networking is a grapevine. Knowing one person can help lead to knowing another person – and it can happen virtually, even in the midst of a pandemic!

Angell Kim graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Global Studies and a Minor in Latin American Studies. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Colombia (2016-2018), a 2020 Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow, and is a 2020 Paul D. Coverdell Fellow and MPA student at the University of Arizona.

© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved