We, not Me: Networking 101 for Graduate Students
Donna Messer’s MITACS workshop, “Effective Networking,” is offered to graduate students who might not realize the value of networking or who might not know how to use networking as a tool. We are two graduate students who attended this workshop on 29 April 2010. Here we share some of the highlights of what we learned.
Julie: Jasmine, what is one of the take home messages for you from the workshop?
Jasmine: I think the best thing Donna offered us was a way into the world of networking. As grad students, we’re very familiar with research but we often need our professors to point us in the right direction. When it came to networking, so many of the students in the room had no idea where to start! Because Donna provided us with names of companies, services, and other resources to use as starting points, we could get on the right track. We can do the digging work once we’ve found the location of the buried treasure, but Donna gave us the map.
What about you, Julie?
Julie: If I have to pick one thing to take action on right away, it’s that I (still!) need to work on my LinkedIn profile. It’s definitely something I think a lot of us grads need to work on. Even if it seems like a long time before you graduate, it’s a good idea to create a professional online identity for yourself as soon as possible. It might yield an unexpected opportunity in the short-term and in the long-term will help ensure you have a large and vibrant network by the time you graduate.
Related to this, Donna mentioned how Facebook is not a good tool for business or professional networking, which I think most of us realize. But what about other parts of our online identity? For example, I have a blog. It started out as something to support my professional online identity as a researcher who works with Makushi Amerindian communities in Guyana on their “home sown and home grown” form of environmental education. But during my recent reconnaissance visit, the blog became personal and poetic. I’m proud of it as a work of art, but I will not put it as a link on my LinkedIn profile. I’m working on having two distinct online identities: my personal identity, which uses the fun, informal network of friends and family (Facebook and my personal blog); and my professional identity, which will be hosted by the formal network of LinkedIn, and I might create a professional blog about my research.
Jasmine: That’s definitely a good idea. I’ve had my LinkedIn account for a couple of years now, but I’ve never known how to make it work for me. I was always nervous about asking to be connected to people I might learn from out of the fear of being too bold. I think there’s a negative stigma linked to the word ‘networking’ that Donna helped to destroy. Because she focused on what each person can bring to a relationship, networking didn’t seem self-serving. We needed to hear the straightforward truth: there are so many people who are able to help each other who would not be put into contact if not for networking. Connecting people is beneficial to all parties involved.
Julie: You’re absolutely right, the key thing is to engage in ethical networking. Donna is very well connected with a large network. She is a hub, a connector able to make key connections for others. For her, ethical networking means she only connects people when it will be mutually beneficial and when she trusts both parties will act with integrity. In contrast, most of us students need to concentrate on building our network rather than on connecting our contacts to each other. That will come later. For now, acting with integrity and remembering what we have to offer helps ensure a hub like Donna will want to connect us with her contacts.
Jasmine: Yes. As for finding ways we can help others, I think Donna helped us understand how to make connections best with the “Building Relationships” exercise in her workshop. We were asked to pair up with someone in the room and share some of our skills, hobbies, and interests. After a short conversation we discovered that we had a lot in common and also had some advice to share. We were instructed to share a gift with our partners based on what we had learned from our brief encounter so that we would each benefit from the knowledge of someone else. I had the pleasure of connecting with a lovely woman who loves to cook. I’m not the queen of the kitchen, so maybe I’ll be able to get a recipe or two from her. She’s quite new to the country and hasn’t been a student in years, so I can share some of the resources I know of that are available for students.
The activities were enjoyable but also helped drive Donna’s messages home.
Julie: That’s especially true of the last activity. Our final activity was a group reflective exercise. First, we each thought of one word to describe the keys to networking that we had learned about in the workshop – but from a different perspective than our own. Our group came up with: Innovation, Adaptation, Attentiveness, Flexibility, Creativity, Interaction, and Awareness. Then as a group, we had to put our words into a coherent sentence!!! Here we share a distilled version of our take-home message from the workshop to spare you, gentle reader, from a mammoth run-on sentence:
We have learned that to succeed together on our life’s journey, we must become more creative and adaptable. We need to put a plan in place so that we can meet the people we need to know in order to build a mutually beneficial relationship.
Jasmine: Not bad! The other group played on similar themes. They concluded: To solve problems effectively, we should be flexible, learning to accept and adapt to different communication styles. We can become more observant, to analyze and accommodate new ideas. We can learn to solve problems based on ever-changing situations, and understand that there is never just one solution.
All in all, the workshop helped us get our feet wet in the world of ethical, reciprocal, and effective networking. That means we must be creative and adaptable when making connections, but even more importantly, we have to remember not to lose the genuine desire to make a human connection. In the end, as Donna says, “Networking is about people!”
Jasmine Ball is an English M.A. student at Carleton University. Julie Comber is a PhD Candidate in Education at the University of Ottawa. Connect with us on LinkedIn!
* Julie and Jasmine are both connected directly to me through LinkedIn. I look forward to working with both of them many times in the future! Donna